Ileana Bermudez’s termination was retaliatory, rules a Massachusetts Appeals Court. After a 2013 on-the-job injury, Bermudez collected workers’ compensation benefits from a staffing agency that placed her at Dielectrics, a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of medical devices. According to Bermudez’s claim, multiple sheets of metal fell on her foot because Kevin Ramos, a Dielectric employee, was negligently operating a forklift. The accident caused a fracture to her right foot, and she was unable to return to work for approximately eight weeks.
When Bermudez filed the workers’ comp claim, she named the staffing agency, Career Group, as her employer. As a result, the benefits came from Career Group’s insurer. After returning to work, Dielectrics hired Bermudez as a full-time employee. Less than two years later, she filed a lawsuit against Dielectrics and Ramos, the forklift operator, alleging negligence and respondeat superior. Shortly after receiving notice of the lawsuit, Dielectrics fired Bermudez with the following notice:
“It is important to Dielectrics that when we promote an employee to a supervisory position the employee has a belief in the [c]ompany and behave[s] with the [c]company’s best interests at heart. Our supervisors need to support Dielectrics in that way so that we can entrust them to spread those same values to their subordinates. When you sued Dielectrics after being compensated for your injury by workers’ compensation, we had little choice but to conclude that you don’t believe in the company and don’t have its best interests in mind. This adversely affects the department you’ve been entrusted to supervise and the company as a whole. As such, we have decided to terminate your employment effective immediately.”
In response to her termination, Bermudez sued Dielectrics for retaliatory termination. Because Dielectrics was not technically her employer when the forklift incident occurred, a judge ruled that the medical device manufacturer couldn’t be sued for retaliation. The same judge did, however, give her 20 days to amend her complaint by adding a claim of public policy violation, which she did. A Boston workers’ comp lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured in a work-related accident.
But Bermudez voluntarily dismissed her claim, then appealed, contending that she had a right to her third-party negligence claim. In response, Associate Justice James R. Lemire stated that a 1971 act “abolished the necessity for an election between filing a workers’ compensation claim and an action against a negligent third party.” Lemire went on to say that the act was again amended in 1991 and that, “the language in the first sentence of the 1971 statute, abolishing the need for an election between remedies, remained the same for the 1991 statute. At the time of Bermudez’s injury, an employee was entitled to pursue a third-party action against any person responsible for her injury after collecting benefits under the act.”
Dielectrics wasn’t convinced. The company argued that the act was created by common law and, thus, didn’t give Bermudez the right to sue. The Appeals Court disagreed, however, holding that state law prohibits retaliatory termination against an employee who exercises a right provided by this particular act. Since Bermudez was exercising such a right when she filed the lawsuit against Dielectrics, and because there is sufficient evidence that her termination was retaliatory in nature, Dielectrics’ move to dismiss the amended complaint was vacated. A MA workers’ comp attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been injured on the job. Continue reading