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Alabama Supreme Court sends workers' compensation suit back to court to decide retaliatory discharge claim

By Dee Thompson | Jun 2, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – The Alabama Supreme Court remanded a workers' compensation case back to state court to decide if the retaliatory discharge claim, filed by an injured nursing home worker, was covered under her employer’s program designed to compel arbitration.

Jackie Fikes, in her lawsuit against SSC Selma Operating Co. LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services LLC, had appealed the case from the Dallas Circuit Court. 

Fikes originally filed suit on March 4, 2016, seeking to recover workers' compensation benefits. She claimed her employment was terminated in violation of the law because she had filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits as a result of a 2013 back injury. In February 2013, Fikes was working as a certified nursing assistant and allegedly was injured while lifting a patient. She was terminated on March 4, 2014 after she was put on light duty restrictions, the suit states.

Fikes asked that her two claims for workers' compensation and for retaliatory discharge be severed. She asked for her retaliatory discharge claim to be heard in a jury trial. Defendants moved to compel arbitration under their Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) program. Fikes had agreed to be bound by the EDR rules but then argued that her retaliatory discharge claim wasn’t part of the EDR rules.

In October 2016, the defendant companies’ motion compelling arbitration was denied. The companies appealed.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted “neither the companies nor Fikes disputes that the EDR program governs the arbitration of employment disputes between the companies and its employees or that the transaction--Fikes's employment by a company operating in 19 states--involves interstate commerce. The only issue before this court is whether Fikes met her burden of demonstrating that her retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered under the EDR program.”

Warren Manor is located in Selma, Alabama, and has 172 beds. It has been in operation since 1984.

The court opinion stated that Fikes failed to demonstrate that her retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR Program. It noted: “Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's order denying the companies' motion to compel arbitration of that claim and remand this case to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

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