A construction worker in North Carolina is entitled to more than $ 1 million in damages and law firms after he was fired for complaining about his supervisor's intoxication at work, an appeals court ruled.
In Driskell v Summit Contracting Group Inc. the fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday upheld a jury's ruling that the worker was returned for threatening to file a workers' claim. after being beaten by the supervisor and for complaining about the safety risk presented by the supervisor's intoxication.
Justin Driskell served as Deputy Head of the Summit Contracting Group. In June and July 2015, he noticed that his supervisor often drank alcohol at lunch and returned to work drunk, and at one point "intoxicated a drunken handgun in the workplace" in violation of several workplaces. Driskell said he reported the manager's behavior several times to senior executives, claiming he posed a security risk.
On July 1
On July 20, Mr. Driskell and his supervisor over a safety issue outside a bar, and the supervisor punched Mr. Driskell in the face several times when he had turned to leave. Driskell wrestled with the supervisor and put him in head lock. Neither of them was seriously injured but both sought medical treatment. Driskell was released back to work in three days; the supervisor required the use of a head protection for two weeks.
The supervisor told Driskell that he was fired, although he did not formally quit, and realized that he had been released when his workplace iPad and cell phone were deactivated.
In January 2016, Driskell filed a complaint with the North Carolina Department of Labor, claiming that he was terminated for reporting safety issues and that Summit believed he would file a workers' compensation claim.
A jury held that summit. fired Driskell in retaliation and awarded him $ 65,000 in damages, $ 681,000 in damages for wrongful liability and $ 441,600 in law firms. The Court of Appeal confirmed the decision. Although the summit claimed that internal complaints are not protected from retaliation, the court disagreed, saying that internal complaints about ongoing safety issues can be protected when they lead to an investigation – which is what happened when the CEO instructed another worker to investigate the supervisor's drinking.
The Summit also argued that because Driskell never explicitly "threatened" to file compensation or submitted one, that he could not claim that he was retaliated, but the Court of Appeals found that the jury could find that the law prohibits an employer from firing pending a "good faith application for workers' compensation claims."
Finally, the summit claimed that it fired Driskell because of the legitimate reason for insubordination and conflict with its supervisors. The Court of Appeal disagreed, however, noting that internal emails provided "good evidence to support causation" for both of Driskell's retaliation theories.  The court also upheld the jury's award of damages and law firms, but a judge denied the award of criminal damages and law firms.