Medina v. Jeff Dumas Concrete Construction
Medina v. Jeff Dumas Concrete Construction, LLC, 2020 UT App 166 (Orme, J.)
An employee was injured at work and filed a workers’ compensation claim. Over the course of several months, the employee missed work to attend physical therapy and to attend to his injury. The employee then told his supervisor that he was going to miss work to attend his deposition in his workers’ compensation case, and the supervisor fired the employee while he was at the deposition. The employee sued the employer for wrongful termination. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion, reasoning that the employee had not shown that his filing a workers’ compensation claim was a substantial factor in his termination. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed, holding:
- To prevail on a claim of wrongful termination that violated public policy, an employee must establish a prima facie case that (1) the employer terminated him, (2) a clear and substantial public policy existed, (3) the employee’s conduct brought the policy into play, and (4) the discharge and the conduct bringing the policy into play are causally connected. The employer then carries the burden of showing a legitimate reason for the discharge. Then the employee must show by the preponderance of the evidence that engaging in the protected conduct was a substantial factor in the employer’s motivation to discharge the employee.
- At issue in this case is only the last step: whether the employee produced evidence that the protected conduct was a substantial factor in the employee’s termination. Under this step, an employee may prevail on an unlawful termination claim if the employer fired the employee for multiple reasons, including the employee’s engagement in the protected activity—but not where the protected activity, although perhaps a reason for termination, did not ultimately play an important role in the employer’s decision to fire the employee.
- Here, the employee presented sufficient facts to survive summary judgment on the substantial factor step: the employer told the employee “Get off the job site right now if you are injured,” the employer’s belief that the employee fabricated his account of the injury, and the employer terminating the employee during his deposition in his workers’ compensation case.