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Nealy v. City of Santa Monica: Retaliatory Termination and Workers’ Compensation

Nealy v. City of Santa Monica, an appeal from the Court of Appeal for the State of California, involved a recycling worker who was injured on the job. Claimant injured his right knee while he was moving a bin full of food waste in 2003. A treating physician determined he was temporarily disabled as a result of his knee injury. He underwent two operations on his knee in 2003 and 2004. His temporary disability rating was extended until May 2005, when his doctor cleared him to return to light duty.

recycling-2-1364013-m.jpgHis restrictions were he could not move large trash bins that weighed 750 pounds when empty and as much as 1,200 pounds when full of garbage. In 2005, the city accommodations committee convened to make reasonable accommodations for claimant, due to his light work status.

As our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, when a worker is partially disabled and given certain restrictions, his or her employer must attempt to make reasonable accommodations to find work he or she can do within those limitations. An employer cannot simply fire an employee because he or she cannot return to work in a full capacity after being injured on the job. If you have been the victim of wrongful or retaliatory termination, you should contact a workers’ compensation attorney immediately to discuss your rights to reinstatement and a full and appropriate financial compensation for your loss.

The committee met and asked claimant to return to work in either a clerical position or operating a single person automatic side loader. Claimant had operated this type of side loader on many occasions before being injured on the job and was familiar with its operation.

City commission told him they would accept either a voluntary demotion or a lateral transfer to one of these positions. The city told claimant about a groundskeeper position and forwarded this position to his treating doctor for approval. His doctor approved him to work as a groundskeeper.

In 2005, claimant started working as a groundskeeper but had trouble climbing, which was a requirement of his new job. His employer said they would hold off on risky assignments until further accommodations could be provided, or he could transfer back to his old department.

In August of 2006, claimant was rushed to the emergency room when he was injured while working at a baseball field. He stepped off a tractor and injured his lower back when his bad knee buckled.

His doctor listed his condition as disabled for a couple of weeks and then cleared him to return to work. He was cleared to perform light semi-sedentary office work. The city did not have work to accommodate this disability, and he did not return to work. After several more attempts at accommodation, which did not go well, he was told there was no position available.

He filed a claim for retaliatory termination and was granted workers’ compensation benefits. This city appealed this decision, and, on appeal, court concluded city had made various attempts at accommodating claimant, and this was a valid defense to a retaliation claim.


Call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim– 1-888-367-2900.

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