A jury in Conecuh County, Ala., returned a $3.5 million verdict last month against Guyoung Tech USA, Inc. The jury found that the Plaintiff, Elaine Dees, was terminated in retaliation because she reported a job injury. The jury verdict consisted of $1 million in compensatory damages for lost future wages and mental anguish and $2.5 million in punitive damages.
While Alabama employment law allows an employer to dismiss a private employee without cause, there are certain limitations. In 1985 the Alabama Legislature passed a law stating that a worker cannot be fired solely for reporting a job injury. The Defendant in this case disputed Mrs. Dees’ contentions as to why she was terminated, but the jury didn’t buy its claims. Mrs. Dees contended that for several weeks after her March 14, 2011, on-the-job injury, she was able to work her shifts. But when she went to the doctor on April 4th, she was restricted to no more than eight hours of work. Mrs. Dees was fired two days later. Witnesses for Guyoung Tech claimed that Ms. Dees was laid off as part of a planned layoff that had started in November 2010 and ended in July 2011 and included at least 60 employees.
A worker injured on the job in Alabama is required by law to report the injury because the Department of Industrial Relations monitors the safety of workplaces. The employee has to report the injury in order to obtain medical care under the Worker’s Compensation Act. The intent of this law is to make sure that a worker is not punished for following the requirements of the worker’s compensation law. In this case, I am told there were no settlement discussions prior to trial. This verdict sets a record for civil jury verdicts in Conecuh County. Guyoung Tech USA, Inc. has 30 days from the date of the verdict and resulting judgment to request Judge Dawn Hare to reduce the amount of the judgment or order a new trial. Max Cassady, a lawyer from Evergreen, represented Mrs. Dee. He did an excellent job for her in this most significant case.