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Premium Blunder: Complaining about Worker’s Health Costs Can Cost You a Lawsuit

by on
in Case In Point

The cost of health insurance is a hot button for most employers and employees today. But, one court recently warned, be careful what you say to employees about their impact on the company’s insurance premiums. Just a few wrong words could push the worker’s “I’m-going-to-sue-you” button ...

Case in Point: Willie Martin, a 60-year-old black man, worked in an Oklahoma machine shop. One day, the boss told Martin that he was a “high risk to the company” because of his age and race. The boss claimed he made that statement to Martin while explaining that insurance premiums for Martin were higher than those for other employees because “black males have a higher risk of heart attacks.

Martin also alleged the boss had made a racial slur and commented that Martin could not do the same work as some of his younger co-workers.

Eventually, Martin claimed he was terminated because of his age and race. The company said it never terminated Martin, but rather Martin walked off the job after arguing about his performance with his boss.

Martin sued the company for age and race discrimination, pointing, in part, to the boss’s grousing about Martin’s health insurance costs due to his age and race.

The result: The court sided with Martin and sent the case to a jury to decide liability. Now, one cost the employer is sure will skyrocket is its employment practices liability insurance. (Martin v. Duncan Bit Servs, Inc., W.D. Okla., 8/24/12)

 3 Lessons Learned ... Without Going To Court

1. Shut up. Keep your mouth closed when it comes to the cost of employees’ health care costs. Don’t explain anything to anyone.

2. Pay up. Pay the premiums quickly and quietly. It will be much cheaper than paying for them AND the costs of an extended employment lawsuit.

3. Write up. The company claimed Martin was terminated because of poor performance. While Martin was given an oral warning, it was never recorded on paper to prove it happened. Without proper documentation, this case smelled really fishy to the judge.

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{ 2 comments“ read them below or add one }

Mindy September 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Great question, Sharon! I think they argued “in the alternative.” The company asserted it did not fire the employee. But, in the alternative, if the court found he was, in fact, fired, then the employer argued it was “for cause” because he was a poor performer and not because of his race and age. Thanks for reading Case in Point and for taking the time to comment!
Best, Mindy

Reply

Sharon September 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

How did the company get away with saying they didn’t terminate him and then turn around and say he was terminated for poor performance?

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