No simultaneous challenges in state and federal courts for workers’ comp cases

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A recent federal trial court decision means employees can’t sue to challenge the constitutionality of a Michigan workers’ compensation ruling in both state and federal courts. That’s good news for employers that now won’t have to fight it out in both courts at the same time.

Recent case: Bruce Paris worked as a Michigan state trooper until he was injured when a motorist hit him as he was investigating an accident. After the accident, he could no longer fire a gun, which made him unable to perform the essential duties of a state trooper.

Paris opted to receive vocational rehabilitation while on workers’ comp and ultimately earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biblical studies. Then the state offered him a position as a prison chaplain with the Michigan Department of Corrections. Although he agreed he technically was qualified for the position, he had not yet received a “divine call.” His church’s doctrines require all clergy to have been “called,” and not “appointed by man.” Paris turned down the offer.

Paris lost his workers’ comp benefits because he turned down a job he was technically qualified to do. He appealed the workers’ compensation decision in state courts, plus filed a Title VII religious discrimination lawsuit in federal court. In the federal suit, he alleged that Michigan was discriminating against him for following his religion’s doctrine.

The federal court dismissed his case, reasoning that he was raising the same issue in state court. Paris will have to wait until all his state appeals are over before he can try his luck in federal court. (Paris v. State of Michigan, Department of Police, No. 07-11026, ED MI, 2007)

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