WEST PALM BEACH — A three-judge panel reversed a decision by a lower court and ruled that an Island Hospitality Florida Management employee took the proper steps to start a workers' compensation claim.
William Salus appealed a final summary judgment that was entered in favor of Island Hospitality Florida Management on his retaliatory discharge claim, according to the Jan. 15 opinion.
The trial court had ruled that because the employer terminated Salus' employment before he filed a workers' compensation claim, there was no prima facie case of retaliation, but the appeals court disagreed and reversed the decision.
Chief Judge Spencer Levine authored the opinion and Judges Melanie May and Alan Forst concurred in the opinion.
Salus was injured at work on March 24, 2017, and notified his employer about the injury. Within two weeks of the injury, the company fired Salus.
During depositions, Salus and the employer gave conflicting accounts of how Salus was discharged, with the employer claiming he threatened another employee and was fired after he admitted to the threat. Salus alleged he was given no reason for his termination.
"The trial court found that the employee could not make a prima facie case under the statute because he did not in fact petition for benefits until after his termination," Levine wrote. "The trial court did not consider if the employee’s actions constituted an 'attempt to claim compensation.' The trial court merely relied on the fact that the claim was filed after the employee’s termination. However, the fact that the employee did not file a formal claim for workers’ compensation benefits until after his termination does not automatically preclude a claim for retaliatory discharge."
The appeals court found that the employee had gone to the hospital when he was injured and notified the employer about the injury the next day. He also had a discussion with the employer about the difficulties he experienced in getting follow-up treatment and obtained the paperwork needed to file a workers' compensation claim.
"The employee effectively sought benefits under the statute," Levine wrote. "Thus, the employee’s attempt to claim compensation brought his actions under the protection of the retaliation statute."
The appeals court reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded it for further proceedings.
Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal Case number: 4D18-3222