The Missouri Supreme Court just made a substantial change in the level of proof necessary to establish a workers’ compensation retaliation claim under the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Act. This recent decision held that an individual need only prove that his or her exercise of rights related to workers’ compensation claims were a “contributing factor” to any adverse employment action, such as a termination.
Previously, plaintiffs were required to establish an “exclusive causal connection” between exercising their rights under workers’ compensation and any subsequent adverse actions by their employers.
Section 287.780 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states: “No employer or agent shall discharge or in any way discriminate against any employee for exercising any of his rights under this chapter.”
In this recent case, the plaintiff severely injured his foot on the job and was subject to various injury-related restrictions when he returned to work. About 10 months after the plaintiff’s return, when he was still on light duty, the employer discharged him. The employer presented evidence that the plaintiff had ignored instructions and was insubordinate. The plaintiff countered this with evidence that the employer’s owner referred to injured workers as “whiners,” yelled at the plaintiff because of his injury, and failed to follow a progressive discipline policy when discharging the plaintiff. The jury originally found in favor of the employer.
The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court. The Court stated that the new standard is consistent with the statutory language and also aligns workers’ compensation discrimination with other Missouri employment discrimination laws. The case was remanded for a new jury trial.