question mark 2492009 640

What Do You Think: Did Mo. Treatment Center Retaliate Against Worker with Opioids in System?

31 Aug, 2023 Chris Parker

question mark 2492009 640

Waynesville, MO ( – Employers’ policies often call for discipline when an employee violates an internal drug policy. It can complicate matters, however, when an employee files a workers’ compensation claim around the same time.

As a Missouri appeals court explained in a case involving a case manager for a drug treatment facility, it’s what genuinely motivated the employer that matters.

On Jan. 22, 2019, the treatment facility subjected the case manager to a random drug test. It came up positive for opioids. Per company policy, the facility suspended her and scheduled a second test to confirm the presence of the drugs.

In the meantime, on January 25, the case manager, saying she injured herself on January 21 moving office furniture, filed a workers’ compensation claim.

While the treating physician did not prescribe opioids, the case manager pointed out that a doctor prescribed them for her following a 2017 tubal ligation. She was to take one to two tablets every four hours for a few days as needed for pain post-surgery.

The manager also stated that, after injuring herself moving furniture, she took one of her father’s Vicodin’s on January 21, the night before the first drug test.

On Jan. 29, the second confirming drug test came back positive for opioids. The facility, in accordance with company police, terminated her.

The manager sued the facility for retaliating against her for exercising her rights under Missouri’s workers’ compensation law.

To establish workers’ compensation retaliation, the court explained, the manager had to show her decision to exercise her rights under the Workers' Compensation Law was the motivating factor in her discharge. To do so, she had to show that the exercise of her rights:

--> Actually played a role in the discharge; and
--> Had a determinative influence on the discharge or discrimination.

Was the manager’s termination reprisal for her workers’ compensation claim?
A. No. She failed to show the facility was motivated by anything other than her apparent drug use.
B. Yes. The timing of the discharge was highly suspicious, given that it occurred shortly after she filed her workers’ compensation claim.

If you picked A, you agreed with the court in Ashby v. Woodbridge of Missouri, Inc., No. SD37420 (Missouri Ct. App. 08/17/23), which found insufficient evidence that the workers’ compensation claim, rather than the drug policy violation, played any role in her termination.

The court pointed out that the case manager, while suspended for a presumptive positive drug test and shortly before she was terminated, filed an after-the-fact report of injury. The facility processed that report normally. “This happenstance does not create a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivation for [the manager’s] termination,” the court wrote.

The court rejected the manager’s explanation that she had a prescription for pain killers from a prior physician. The prescription, the court observed, was issued in 2017.

“Her prescription was prescribed to treat pain for a limited time after a tubal ligation surgery and had an ‘end’ date set nearly two years before her drug test,” the court wrote.

The court held that she failed to make out a retaliation claim.

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