East St. Louis, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) – While workers’ compensation issues are generally matters of state law that must remain in state court, some circumstances might arise that open the doors to federal courthouses in cases.
In Neal v. Louis Dreyfus Company Services LLC, No. 3:21-cv-00820-GCS (S.D. Ill. 10/21/21), those circumstances involved what’s known as “diversity jurisdiction,” in which the parties involved in litigation are in different states.
The worker was injured on the job and provided his employer with a series of doctor’s notes that imposed various work-related restrictions. As a result, the company placed the worker off work, and the worker filed a claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
The company informed the worker he would be terminated unless he either responded with his then-current medical information and work-related restrictions or came back to work. Claiming that the worker did not provide the required information, the company terminated the worker’s employment.
The worker sued the company in federal court, claiming a wrongful discharge that was retaliation related to his exercising his rights under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. On the company’s motion, the court removed the case to federal court because the company was in a different state from where the worker was. The worker filed a motion to have the case sent back to state court.
Although the act prohibits retaliatory conduct by employers, federal law provides that civil actions in state courts arising under workers’ compensation laws of a state may not be removed to federal court. Instead, state courts must address such claims. However, if the case does not arise under workers’ compensation law, removal to a federal court is appropriate.
Thus, the company could remove the workers’ claims to federal jurisdiction because the worker was alleging retaliatory discharge, which was not a workers’ compensation issue.
Citing 7th Circuit precedent, the court explained, “Our view that the tort of retaliatory discharge is not a worker’s compensation law is supported by the fact that, as a matter of federal law, worker’s compensation laws provide limited no-fault compensation for an injury; this limit on damages is in exchange for the elimination of general tort rules and defenses.”
As a result, the court denied the worker’s motion to remand to state court.