From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

Frampton v. Central Ind. Gas Co.

Supreme Court of Indiana
May 1, 1973
260 Ind. 249 (Ind. 1973)

Summary

holding that an employee who alleges he was discharged in retaliation for filing a claim pursuant to the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act has stated a claim upon which relief can be. granted

Summary of this case from Smeigh v. Johns Manville, Inc.

Opinion

No. 473S66.

Filed May 1, 1973.

1. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION — Workmen's Compensation Act — Employer Duty — Employee Right. — The Workmen's Compensation Act creates a duty in the employer to compensate employees for work related injuries (through insurance) and a right in the employee to receive such compensation. p. 251.

2. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION — IC 1971, 22-3-2-15 — "Device". — The threat of discharge is in clear contravention of public policy because it is a "device" within the framework of IC 1971, 22-3-2-15 which states, "no contract or agreement, written or implied, no rule, regulation or other device shall, in any manner, operate to relieve any employer in whole or in part of any obligation created by this act." p. 252.

3. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION — Retaliatory Discharge for Filing a Claim — Actionable. — An employee who alleges that he was retaliatorily discharged for filing a claim pursuant to the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act or the Indiana Occupational Diseases Act has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted; such a discharge would constitute an intentional, wrongful act on the part of the employer for which the injured employee is entitled to be fully compensated in damages. p. 253.

Petition to Transfer.

Plaintiff-employee brought an action against her former employer seeking actual and punitive damages for retaliatory discharge. The trial court dismissed the complaint pursuant to TR. 12(B) (6), failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed.

Transfer granted; trial court reversed; cause remanded for further proceedings.

George K. Hughel, of Anderson, for appellant.

David L. Kiley, Albert C. Harker, Kiley, Osborn, Kiley Harker, of Marion, for appellee.


Plaintiff-employee brought an action against her former employer seeking actual and punitive damages for retaliatory discharge. The Henry Circuit Court dismissed the complaint pursuant to TR. 12(B) (6) (failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted). The plaintiff appealed. The First District Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Presiding Judge Robertson, affirmed the trial court's dismissal.

The complaint sets out the following facts:

Plaintiff, an employee of defendant, injured her arm while working. Defendant and their insurer paid her hospital and medical expenses, as well as her full salary, during the four months she was unable to work. However, they did not inform her of further benefits that might have been available. When she did return to the job she performed capably. Approximately 19 months after the injury, defendant and its insurer were notified of a 30 per cent loss in the use of her arm. Although hesitant to file a claim for fear of losing her job she did so, and received a settlement for her injury. About one month later she was discharged from her employment without reason being given.

Plaintiff prayed for $45,000 in actual damages, and:

". . . punitive or exemplary damages in the amount of $135,000.00 which is triple the amount of her actual damages because of the Defendant's intentional acts in defiance of the legislative intent of the Workmen's Compensation Laws which if allowed to persist would effectively thwart the public policy of the State of Indiana."

Workmen's compensation acts are designed to afford injured workers "an expeditious remedy both adequate and certain, and independent of any negligence on their part or on the part of the employer." Prior to workmen's compensation, workers were faced with the harshness of the common law. The employee's only remedy was an action in tort against the employer — actions which were rarely successful. This lack of success is attributed to the common law defenses of assumption of risk, contributory negligence and the fellow servant rule which were accorded inordinate deference.

Blair, Reference Guide to Workmen's Compensation Law, St. Louis, 1969.

It has been estimated that 80% of these pre-workmen's compensation cases were lost or uncompensated. Horovitz, Injury and Death Under Workmen's Compensation Laws, Boston, 1944, p. 3.

Workmen's compensation statutes are in derogation of the common law and provide, for those covered, an exclusive remedy for injuries sustained "in the course of" and "arising out of" one's employment. The basic policy behind such legislation is to shift the economic burden for employment connected injuries from the employee to the employer.

"One of the purposes of the Workmen's Compensation Act is to transfer from the worker to the industry in which he is employed and ultimately to the consuming public a greater portion of economic loss due to industrial accidents and injuries." (authorities omitted)

Mann et al. v. Schnarr (1950), 228 Ind. 654, 667, 95 N.E.2d 138, 143. See also: Guevara v. Inland Steel Co. (1949), 120 Ind. App. 47, 88 N.E.2d 398; Aetna Casualty Surety Co. v. Hightower (1939), 107 Ind. App. 46, 22 N.E.2d 875.

Workmen's compensation is for the benefit of the employee. Hoffman v. Brooks Const. Co. (1942), 220 Ind. 150, 41 N.E.2d 613. Accordingly, it is well-established that the Act be liberally construed in favor of the employee so as to not negate the Act's humane purposes. Goldstone v. Kozma (1971), 149 Ind. App. 626, 274 N.E.2d 304; Prater v. Indiana Briquetting Corp. (1969), 253 Ind. 83, 251 N.E.2d 810.

The Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act may be found at IC 1971, 22-3-2-1 et seq. (Ind. Ann. Stat. § 40-1201 et seq. [1965 Repl.].

The Act creates a duty in the employer to compensate employees for work-related injuries (through insurance) and a right in the employee to receive such compensation. But 1. in order for the goals of the Act to be realized and for public policy to be effectuated, the employee must be able to exercise his right in an unfettered fashion without being subject to reprisal. If employers are permitted to penalize employees for filing workmen's compensation claims, a most important public policy will be undermined. The fear of being discharged would have a deleterious effect on the exercise of a statutory right. Employees will not file claims for justly deserved compensation — opting, instead, to continue their employment without incident. The end result, of course, is that the employer is effectively relieved of his obligation.

Since the Act embraces such a fundamental, well-defined and well-established policy, strict employer adherence is required. IC 1971, 22-3-2-15 (Ind. Ann. Stat. § 40-1215 [1965 Repl.]) states:

"No contract or agreement, written or implied, no rule, regulation or other device shall, in any manner, operate to relieve any employer in whole or in part of any obligation created by this act." (our emphasis)

We believe the threat of discharge to be a "device" within the framework of 22-3-2-15, and hence, in clear contravention of public policy. By denying transfer and allowing the trial 2. court's dismissal to stand we would be arming unethical employers with common law authority. Once an employee knows he is remediless if retaliatorily discharged, he is unlikely to file a claim. What then is to prevent an employer from coercing an employee? Upholding retaliatory discharge opens the door to coercion and other duress-provoking acts.

Retaliatory discharge for filing a workmen's compensation claim is a wrongful, unconscionable act and should be actionable in a court of law. Although, we know of no other cases in this or in any other jurisdiction holding that such a discharge is actionable, there has been a parallel development in landlord and tenant law. Courts in several jurisdictions have held that "retaliatory evictions" offend public policy. "Retaliatory evictions" usually result from a tenant's reporting health or safety code violations to an appropriate administrative body. The tenant, quite often unable to motivate the landlord to make necessary repairs and improvements, reports the violations. The landlord, angered by the tenant's temerity, either gives the tenant notice to quite or effectively evicts the tenant by raising the rent to an unreasonable level. The cases hold that retaliatory eviction may be raised as an affirmative defense in an action by the landlord for possession. Going one step further, a recent California decision holds that a landlord's retaliation is the basis of an affirmative cause of action. It should be noted that the California Court of Appeal based its holding on a public policy embodied in a particular section of the Civil Code and not upon any statutorily created cause of action.

Edwards v. Habib (1968), (D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals), 397 F.2d 687; Schweiger v. Superior Court (1970), 3 Cal.3d 507, 90 Cal.Rptr. 729; Portnoy v. Hill (1968), 57 Misc.2d 1097, 294 N.Y.S.2d 278; Dickhut v. Norton (1970), 45 Wis.2d 389, 173 N.W.2d 297; Wilkins v. Tebbetts (Fla. App. 1968), 216 So.2d 477 are just a few examples. Edwards is considered to be the landmark case in the area.

Aweeka v. Bonds (1971), 20 C.A.3d 278, 97 Cal.Rptr. 650 .

Retaliatory discharge and retaliatory eviction are clearly analagous. Housing codes are promulgated to improve the quality of housing. The fear of retaliation for reporting violations inhibits reporting and, like the fear of retaliation for filing a claim, ultimately undermines a critically important public policy.

In summary, we hold that an employee who alleges he or she was retaliatorily discharged for filing a claim pursuant to the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act (IC 1971, 22-3-2-1, 3, 4. et seq. (Ind. Ann. Stat. § 40-1201 et seq. [1965 Repl.])) or the Indiana Workmen's Occupational Diseases Act (IC 1971, 22-3-7-1 et seq. (Ind. Ann. Stat. § 40-2201 et seq. [1965 Repl.])) has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. We further hold that such a discharge would constitute an intentional, wrongful act on the part of the employer for which the injured employee is entitled to be fully compensated in damages. Of course, the issue of retaliation should be a question for the trier of fact.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that, under ordinary circumstances, an employee at will may be discharged without cause. However, when an employee is discharged solely for 5. exercising a statutorily conferred right an exception to the general rule must be recognized.

For all the foregoing reasons, the petition for transfer is hereby granted and the order of dismissal by the trial court pursuant to TR. 12(B) (6) is hereby reversed. This cause is remanded to the Henry Circuit Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with our opinion.

Arterburn, C.J., DeBruler, Givan, JJ., concur; Prentice, J., dissents with opinion to follow.

NOTE. — Reported in 297 N.E.2d 425.


Summaries of

Frampton v. Central Ind. Gas Co.

Supreme Court of Indiana
May 1, 1973
260 Ind. 249 (Ind. 1973)

holding that an employee who alleges he was discharged in retaliation for filing a claim pursuant to the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act has stated a claim upon which relief can be. granted

Summary of this case from Smeigh v. Johns Manville, Inc.

holding that an employee may file a claim for retaliatory discharge pursuant to the Indiana Workman's Compensation Act or the Indiana Workmen's Occupational Diseases Act

Summary of this case from Thomas v. Drive Auto. Indus. of Am., Inc.

holding that a plaintiff who demonstrates that she was discharged by an employer for filing a claim under Indiana's Workmen's Compensation Act "has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted"

Summary of this case from Grubb v. Cook Med. Techs. LLC

holding that retaliatory discharge is actionable on account of filing claims pursuant to the Indiana Worker's Compensation Act

Summary of this case from Lackey v. Biomet Incorporated

holding that an employee cannot be fired for filing a worker's compensation claim

Summary of this case from Williams v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. (N.D.Ind. 2006)

holding that employees terminated for filing a workers' compensation claim should be “fully compensated in damages” for the employer's “intentional, wrongful act”

Summary of this case from Schmitz v. U.S. Steel Corp.

holding that employees terminated for filing a workers' compensation claim should be "fully compensated in damages" for the employer's "intentional, wrongful act"

Summary of this case from Schmitz v. U.S. Steel Corp.

approving a claim based on employee's refusal to forgo the exercise of a job-related legal right or privilege

Summary of this case from Caspar v. Lucent Technologies, Inc.

recognizing exception where worker's compensation statute did not authorize a right of action for retaliatory discharge

Summary of this case from Carver v. Electronic Data Systems Corp.

recognizing exception to at-will employment doctrine because "[i]f employers are permitted to penalize employees for filing workmen's compensation claims, a most important public policy will be undermined. The fear of being discharged would have a deleterious effect on the exercise of a statutory right."

Summary of this case from Ahnert v. Delco Electronics Corp., (S.D.Ind. 1997)

recognizing that when employees are forced to choose between their job and compensation, they will generally choose their job, the end result of which relieves the employer of his workers' compensation obligation

Summary of this case from Touchard v. La-Z-Boy Inc.

In Frampton v. Central Indiana Gas Company, 260 Ind. 249, 297 N.E.2d 425 (1973), the Supreme Court of Indiana recognized a limited exception to the employment at will doctrine — an employment of indefinite duration which may be terminated, with or without cause, at the will of either party — with respect to discharges in retaliation for filing claims pursuant to the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act.

Summary of this case from Vantine v. Elkhart Brass Mfg. Co., Inc.

In Frampton v. Central Indiana Gas Co., 260 Ind. 249, 297 N.E.2d 425 (1973), the Indiana Supreme Court held that the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act gives a right of action against an employer who discharges an employee in retaliation for filing a workmen's compensation claim.

Summary of this case from Ryan v. J. C. Penney Co., Inc.

In Frampton, the court did find a private remedy to be implicit in the state Workmen's Compensation Act, and some of the reasoning used therein might be applied to this case, but we think the case is meaningfully distinguishable because it placed express reliance on Indiana's statutory language prohibiting any "device" to circumvent employers' liabilities under the Act.

Summary of this case from Loucks v. Star City Glass Co.

In Frampton v. Central Indiana Gas Co., 260 Ind. 249, 297 N.E.2d 425 (1973), a discharge was held wrongful where it was brought about by the fact that the employee had filed a claim under the state workmen's compensation statute.

Summary of this case from Percival v. General Motors Corp.

establishing a cause of action for retaliatory discharge for filing a worker's compensation claim

Summary of this case from Kilbourne v. City of Indianapolis

In Frampton, the plaintiff filed a claim for workers compensation, and his employer fired him for doing so. The court declared that "when an employee is discharged solely for exercising a statutorily conferred right[,] an exception to the general rule must be recognized."

Summary of this case from Barney v. Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc.

In Frampton, the court created a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine when it held that at-will employees must be protected from retaliatory termination for filing a worker's compensation claim.

Summary of this case from Stocker v. Extendicare Health Servs., Inc.

In Frampton, the court found that the fear of discharge would have a deleterious effect on the exercise of a statutory right, rather than a statutory duty.

Summary of this case from Gerardot v. Life Care Ctrs. of Am., Inc.

In Frampton, the court noted the worker's compensation act embraced "fundamental, well-defined and well-established policy" related to the transfer of economic loss due to industrial accidents and injuries.

Summary of this case from Gerardot v. Life Care Ctrs. of Am., Inc.

In Frampton v. Cent. Ind. Gas Co., 297 N.E.2d 425, 428 (1973), the Indiana Supreme Court held that an employer may not fire an employee for filing a worker's compensation claim.

Summary of this case from Maddox v. Meridian Sec. Ins. Co.

In Frampton, the court held that a plaintiff who demonstrates that he or she was discharged by an employer for filing a claim under Indiana's Workmen's Compensation Act "has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted."

Summary of this case from Truitt v. Indianapolis Hous. Agency

In Frampton v. Cent. Ind. Gas Co., 297 N.E.2d 425 (Ind. 1973), the Indiana Supreme Court made it unlawful for an employer to discharge an employee in retaliation for filing a claim for worker's compensation.

Summary of this case from Fulmore v. M&M Transp. Servs., Inc.

In Frampton v. Central Indiana Gas Company, 297 N.E.2d 425 (Ind. 1973), the Indiana Supreme Court recognized that an action for retaliatory discharge exists when an employee is discharged in retaliation for filing a worker's compensation claim.

Summary of this case from Menefee v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (N.D.Ind. 10-21-2008)

addressing employee's refusal to forgo the right to file a workers' compensation claim

Summary of this case from YARBROUGH v. ADT SECURITY SERVICES, INC.
Case details for

Frampton v. Central Ind. Gas Co.

Case Details

Full title:DOROTHY FRAMPTON v. CENTRAL INDIANA GAS COMPANY

Court:Supreme Court of Indiana

Date published: May 1, 1973

Citations

260 Ind. 249 (Ind. 1973)
297 N.E.2d 425

Citing Cases

Tony v. Elkhart County

See id. (listing the three exceptions to employment at will doctrine). The public policy exception was…

Hudson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Indiana generally adheres to the employment-at-will doctrine. However, in Frampton v. Cent. Ind. Gas Co., 260…