The Texas Tribune recently released an article inquiring into what could be systematic discrimination from insurance companies against minorities attempting to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
The article focuses on a case handled by an Austin Lawyer who became convinced his client was treated unjustly due to the color of his skin. This caused the lawyer to wonder about the many African American and Hispanic workers seeking legal assistance and their rate of receiving assistance. The reply he received from the Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation was disheartening and provided no real answer.
Though a 1993 law requires the Texas Worker’s Comp agency to maintain information of the race and gender of every valid claim, it has failed to comply. The department responded to the inquiry stating; “Please note that race and ethnicity are rarely reported and, as discussed, [are] inaccurate and incomplete. Therefore, these numbers cannot be extrapolated for analysis.” The agency further says it does maintain records of the workers that report their race, though it’s a small percentage.
The article provides that this news prompted State Rep. René Oliveira, the Brownsville Democrat overseeing the agency as chairman of the House Business & Industry Committee, to press for immediate collection of this data. Rep. Oliveira also notes, “This is the second time in recent months that the department has not complied with its legal duties.”
The Division of Workers’ Compensation can’t claim charting this information is too daunting a task as records indicate the majority of claims were successfully tracked and included race data when the requirement was set in place in the early 1990’s. Today, some claims don’t have fields so a worker may provide it.
But why is charting race important? The article states that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found Hispanics have a greater chance of dying compared to other workers. Foreign workers not fluent in English or familiar with American safety regulations are also at risk of never receiving entitled benefits Many feel this data will clearly show minorities are not compensated at levels similar to that of Whites.
The Austin attorney’s African American client suffered second and third degree burns across 90% of his body and had his left arm amputated following a smelter explosion in Amarillo, Texas. The client’s rehabilitation required him to workout at a gym, but because the Insurance adjusters found he hadn’t used his swipe card to enter a gym, he was indicted by a grand jury for insurance fraud. In reality, the client wasn’t able to remove his card from his wallet, so the gym employees would always let him in.
It took affidavits from gym employees verifying the worker’s attendance to have the charges dropped. A lawsuit is currently pending against the workers’ comp insurer for bad faith, malicious prosecution, and other unlawful tactics used to delay and deny rightful medical and financial benefits.
It is retaliatory actions like this which many fear are happening to minorities constantly. The article closes with a statement from the client’s attorney; “If [my client] had been a white male, he would never have had a problem, and certainly would not have been indicted for fraud in the Panhandle.”