Here’s a bit of good news. Just because an employee claims she was hurt at work and files for workers’ compensation doesn’t mean she automatically has a federal ADA retaliation case if she’s fired.
Filing an EEOC complaint based on nothing more than a workers’ comp claim doesn’t turn a workers’ comp case into a federal disability discrimination lawsuit.
Recent case: Beth, an employee of the U.S. Postal Service, claimed she hurt her back while shoveling snow off the front steps of the post office where she worked. She filed for workers’ comp.
Later, she was terminated for allegedly opening mail addressed to the Postmaster and making a copy of one of the letters.
She filed an EEOC complaint, alleging retaliation under the ADA. She claimed that she was automatically covered by the ADA by virtue of her workers’ comp claim and that her EEOC filing was therefore protected activity.
Then Beth sued, arguing that she was terminated because she filed that EEOC complaint.
The court considered this elaborate chain of supposed cause and effect and dismissed Beth’s case.
It reasoned that merely filing a workers’ comp claim does not mean that the employee in question is disabled. And if the employee isn’t disabled, then she’s not covered by the ADA. That means any subsequent EEOC complaint based on disability status is therefore invalid and can’t be called protected activity.
Since Beth didn’t engage in protected activity, the post office couldn’t have punished her for that activity. (Kendall v. Donahoe, No. 2:10-CV-1209, WD PA, 2012)