Texas Supreme Court Sides with Employer That Fired Injured Latino Worker
A Latino man from Texas saw his favorable ruling get overturned by the Texas Supreme Court after he sued his former employer for terminating his employment due to an injury suffered on the job.
According to Business Insurance, Jorge Melendez was working for Kings Aire Inc., an HVAC company in El Paso, TX, when a lighting fixture fell on his wrist in 2009 during a demolition. The fixture sliced two of his tendons and a median nerve, which forced Melendez to file for workers’ compensation.
Melendez received 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. When his FMLA leave expired, Melendez had not yet been cleared to return to work, at which time Kings Aire decided to terminate his employment.
The following month, Melendez sued the company for wrongful discharge and breach of contract. The case centered around his assertion that Kings Aire terminated him in retaliation for filing the workers’ compensation claim.
Lower courts initially ruled in Melendez’s favor, awarding him lost earnings, employee benefits, vacation pay, and attorney fee reimbursement. Kings Aire then appealed to higher courts, and the Texas Supreme Court overturned the decision, ruling that Melendez was not wrongfully terminated.
According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, each state has their own unique workers’ compensation program, which complicates legal proceedings in many instances. The federal government covers its employees through its own program, which is usually more beneficial to workers.
For example, the Defense Base Act is a federal workers’ compensation program available to workers injured working overseas for U.S. Department of Defense contractors. It’s an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Act, enacted in 1921 to help the longshore industry’s injured workers.
Since Melendez was not a federal employee, his claim adhered to the workers’ compensation laws of Texas. The court’s ruling notes that Kings Aire followed Texas law and gave Melendez proper notice of his rights as an injured employee.
“The assertion that Kings Aire acted improperly by placing Melendez on FMLA leave, regardless of whether he specifically requested it, ignores Kings Aire’s legal obligations under the FMLA itself,” the ruling states.
Justice Eva M. Guzman, who was not involved in the case, agreed with the court’s ruling.
“On occasion, workplace injuries may require employees to take medical leave extending beyond the FMLA’s protections, but employers may nevertheless manage the resulting burdens on their businesses by enacting and enforcing reasonable leave policies,” Guzman said.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the jury’s initial verdict was flawed according to Texas law, prompting them to overturn the decision and revoke Melendez’s awarded benefits.