Home > 132a, Tactics and Strategy > 132a Claim Fails Because Employee Was Being a Jerk

132a Claim Fails Because Employee Was Being a Jerk

The end of a business relationship can be a nasty event – and when all the stops are pulled, accusations of discrimination often fly if there is even a hint of a workers’ comp claim in the air.

Labor Code section 132a, which governs claims of industrial-injury-based discrimination, is often invoked when the following sequence of events occurs:

1)      Employee is employed;

2)      Employee sustains an industrial injury;

3)      Employee is no longer employed.

Where’s the discrimination?  It’s not always there.  In the event of a completely baseless 132a claim, the employer can recoup the time and expense wasted defending the frivolous action by filing a malicious prosecution claim in civil court.

Often enough, the story is one of a bitter employee fired for reasons unrelated to any injury, as was the case in John Piechota v. SEI Information Technology (a November, 2011 panel decision recently denied review by the Court of Appeal).

Applicant was employed as an information technology consultant and, while flying on business, sustained injury to his left knee roughly a month after being hired.  He saw a doctor for this injury but the doctor prescribed no work restrictions.  A month later, while on a connecting flight (employer apparently refused to authorize a direct flight or private corporate jet) applicant re-injured his left knee and this time got work restrictions prohibiting travel for three weeks.

Applicant, at the time, was holding on to a $2,400 laptop for his employer which the employer had paid for.  When his employer asked for the laptop back, he refused, reasoning that he had e-mailed all pertinent information to a co-worker, so the employer didn’t really “need” the laptop.

After several rebuffed attempts to get the laptop back, including offering to go to applicant’s house to pick it up, the employer decided it was time to let Mr. Piechota go on to do great things.  Applicant refused to let anyone come to his house because he was too disabled to come to the door, even though he was already conducting a job search the next day.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board both found applicant to be less than credible – applicant had claimed that he was forced to pay for the laptop computer and his flights, although the documented evidence appeared to favor deeper pockets than his in that regard; there was a reason the employer wanted its laptop back as they had paid for it!

The judicial powers also found that the evidence was very clearly in favor of the defense: applicant had been fired because he refused to return the company’s property.  Of particular assistance to the defense in this case was the fact that the discussion of applicant’s uncooperative demeanor was the subject of an e-mail discussion amongst management, and the decision was clearly taken to terminate his employment if he didn’t return the laptop.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a malicious prosecution action?

Categories: 132a, Tactics and Strategy
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