The Supreme Court of Alabama issued an interesting decision recently. An injured worker filed a state lawsuit against his employer. The injured worker alleged, among other things, fraud and retaliatory discharge pursuant to Alabama Code § 25-5-11.1. The court ended up splitting the baby. It concluded that the worker’s fraud complaint was barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) and the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. His state-based retaliatory discharge complaint, however, was not preempted by the LHWCA.
On fraud, the court reasoned:
Rodriguez-Flores alleged that U.S. Coatings, through its employee, fraudulently represented to him that “he would be fired if he continued to seek treatment for his injury,” “that he was not entitled to be paid for time missed from work due to his injury,” and “that he was not entitled to be paid for time missed from work because of the injury and that [he] was only entitled to be paid for hours actually worked”; that he was directed to “tell the doctor that his injury was healed or [he] would be fired”; and that he reasonably relied on those representations that proximately resulted in his suffering severe physical, mental, and emotional pain and anguish. These allegations are in the nature of an intentional or bad-faith refusal to provide benefits and/or a wrongful termination of benefits similar to the fraud claim asserted in Ex parte Bender. Rodriguez-Flores has not alleged a specific intent on the part of U.S. Coatings to injury him, which is required in order to fall within the recognized exception to the exclusivity provision of the LHWCA. Based on the foregoing, Rodriguez-Flores’s state-law fraud claim is barred by both the exclusivity provision of the LHWCA and the Act. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in dismissing the fraud claim.
On the retaliatory discharge claim, the court determined:
Unlike the situation in Fillinger where the LHWCA expressly precluded co-employee negligence actions while the Act permitted them, both the LHWCA and the Act prohibit a retaliatory discharge when an employee has sought benefits under the respective acts. Although an aggrieved employee may recover different damages under the respective acts, we cannot say that § 25–5–11.1 “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress,” MPI Acquisition, 14 So.3d at 128, in expanding the LHWCA to include land-based maritime injuries as explained by the Supreme Court in Sun Ship. See also Wallace, supra (holding that a retaliatory-discharge claim brought pursuant to Texas workers’ compensation act, for which compensatory and punitive damages were recoverable, did not conflict with the LHWCA and was not preempted). Based on the foregoing, we conclude that Rodriguez–Flores’s retaliatory-discharge claim brought pursuant to § 25–5–11.1 did not conflict with the LHWCA and, therefore, was not preempted by the LHWCA. Accordingly, the trial court erred in dismissing the retaliatory-discharge claim.
Rodriguez-Flores v. U.S. Coatings, Inc., — So.3d —- (Ala 2013).
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)