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Judge Rejects Yellow Jacket Drilling’s Motion For Summary Judgment Following Its Retaliatory Discharge of An Injured Employee

An Arizona court recently denied Yellow Jacket Drilling Services, LLC (“Yellow Jacket”s), motion for summary judgment after the drilling company was sued for wrongful termination by the employment lawyers of Doyle LLP, on behalf of plaintiff injured while at work.

In May of 2011, plaintiff was hired by Yellow Jacket as a Driller Helper. In November of the same year, while working on-site in the desert of New Mexico, our client experienced immobilizing pain in his back while using a 24-inch wrench to free a seized roller. His fellow crew and manager witnessed this traumatic occurrence. The following day, Yellow Jacket’s operations manager took our client to a company doctor who misdiagnosed his injury by concluding it was just a back sprain. The company physician then proscribed light duty, rest, and over-the-counter pain medications.

Retaliatory employment actions unfortunately may follow a job related injury, or the filing, instituting, or pursuance of workers’ compensation benefits. It is at these times that  some employers seem to forget there must be a good cause for employee terminations, based on company policies.

A week after seeing the company doctor, and due to there being no relief in the amount of physical suffering, our client sought an examination from a private physician who found severe damage to several spinal disks. After noting the need of surgery, the doctor provided an off-work slip which detailed our clients need remain home for a period of time.  Yellow Jacket’s wrongful conduct started even before the inception of the injury claim, and continued thereafter. The company attempted to trick our client into filing the claim under his own insurance rather than proceed through the worker’s compensation process – this was done by Yellow Jacket representatives attempting to coerce our client into lying to his doctors, suggesting he say the injury did not occur at work.

Even after a worker’s comp claim was filed, Yellow Jacket continually assisted and encouraged the worker’s comp insurer to engage in an unreasonable investigation and evaluation of the claim.  When contacted by the insurer, a staff member of the employer claimed the company had no knowledge of the injury claim. Despite direct proof the injury occurred at the drilling site, the President and owner of Yellow Jacket supported previous misstatements by claiming our client’s crew was unaware injuries ever occurred.

Yellow Jacket’s avoidance of accountability culminated in the firing of our client only weeks before he was to appear before the Industrial Commission of Arizona – to expose Yellow Jacket – and only days before his Independent Medical Examination (“IME”) confirmed his injury was compensable. In the employer’s motion for summary judgment, Yellow Jacket gave excuse for the firing that ignored our client’s every effort to handle the claim effectively; “the employee was terminated because he has not worked for months and failed to keep our company informed of his status while at work.”

Yellow Jacket violated The Arizona Employment Protection Act which prohibits terminating an employee in response to them exercising the right to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

The Arizona worker’s compensation litigation team of Doyle LLP will continue to advocate on behalf on this client and ensure his grievances are heard and respected as we seek justice for this retaliatory discharge.