Schmitz v. U.S. Steel Corp: On Retaliation for Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim

In Schmitz v. U.S. Steel Corp., a case from the Minnesota Supreme Court, a worker (“Claimant”) filed a civil lawsuit against the company at which he was formerly employed (“Employer”) on claims of retaliatory discharge and threats to discharge his workers’ compensation claims.

1314902_medical_doctor.jpgClaimant was working as a mechanic at Employer’s steel plant when he injured his back. He felt a pop and fell to the ground. Claimant immediately told his supervisor about the accident. Claimant did not fill out an accident report that day, because, according his testimony, it was the foreman’s job to fill out the report. Our Spartanburg workplace injury attorneys know that promptly reporting any on-the-job injury and ensuring an accident report is generated greatly increases your chance of obtaining a workers’ compensation benefits award.

In Schmitz, Employee called his foreman the next day and said that he was experiencing pain in his side and back. According to court records, Employer’s agents warned Claimant not to fill out a workers’ compensation claim form. He was told that Employer would not like it if he filled out the report. He asked if they would fire him if he filled out the report, and his supervisor allegedly told him that, yes, they would fire him.

The day after this phone call, Claimant’s doctor performed an examination, and he was cleared to return to work without restrictions. Two months later, Claimant injured his back again, this time at home, and was not cleared to return to work until 10 months later. When he was finally able to return to work, his doctor placed certain activity restrictions on him that prevented him from doing his job as a mechanic.

Employer told claimant that there were not positions that would accommodate his restrictions, and he never went back to work for the company. In response, Claimant filed a lawsuit, claiming that he was discharged for attempting to seek workers’ compensation benefits. He also filed a claim that he was being discriminated against for having a disability. The trial court granted Employer’s motion for summary judgment on all counts and dismissed the case.

On appeal, the intermediary court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of his discrimination claims but remanded the case for trial on his workers’ compensation claim. A bench trial was held on that claim, and the court awarded him just under $220,000 in damages, costs, and fees.

Both parties appealed this decision in part, on the issues of whether a jury trial was appropriate and whether the court award was proper.

The state supreme court looked at the relevant statute and to the issue of whether this was a claim of equity or a claim at law. The term “at law” refers to a case where the plaintiff is seeking money damages. The term “at equity” refers to a case where the plaintiff has a made a claim for the court to take some action other than an award of money, such as an injunction.

Ultimately, the court held that Claimant should have been afforded the right to a trial by jury and reversed and remanded the lower court ruling on that issue.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Schmitz v. U.S. Steel Corp, Aug. 27, 2014, Minnesota Suprem Court

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