7-7-2011; U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, grants Defendant Employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment in action alleging Defendant terminated Plaintiff from his job in retaliation for filing...

In Smeigh v. Johns Manville, Inc., No. 10-3388 (June 29, 2011) S.D. Ind., Defendant was sued for retaliatory discharge and civil conversion. Plaintiff alleged Defendant terminated his employment for filing a workers' compensation claim and unlawfully retained his personal property after his termination.

On September 20, 2008, Plaintiff was injured at work when he severed the tip of his finger. White waiting for an ambulance, Plaintiff’s s supervisor advised him he would have to submit to a drug test due to Defendant’s policy mandating drug testing in the event of workplace accidents.

Both parties stipulated Plaintiff advised his supervisor he did not use drugs and had no objection to taking the test. Plaintiff admitted he might test positive for marijuana because he was at a recent party with friends who were using the drug.

A second Defendant employee testified Petitioner admitted he personally used marijuana on the days prior to his accident. Plaintiff denied the conversation took place. Plaintiff later passed a drug test and a workers’ compensation claim was filed.

Despite the negative drug screening, Defendant investigated Plaintiff to determine whether he violated Defendant’s substance abuse policy. After a review of the event, Defendant’s human resources department determined Plaintiff did violate the company’s substance abuse policy, primarily because he admitted he might not pass a drug screening following the accident.

Rather than terminate Plaintiff, Defendant demanded he enroll in an employee assistance program (EAP). They also insisted he sign a stipulation, which required Plaintiff to consent to additional drug screenings and personally pay for treatment. Plaintiff refused to execute the stipulation, even though he was aware failing to do so would likely result in his termination. Plaintiff was subsequently fired and brought suit for retaliatory discharge (for being terminated after filing a workers’ compensation claim) and civil conversion (due to the fact Defendant allegedly retained some of Plaintiff’s possessions post termination)

Defendant moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims and the District Court granted the motion. The District Court’s ruling was affirmed on appeal.

The Seventh Circuit held Plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude he was fired in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The Court reasoned although he was terminated shortly after his workplace injury, the evidence indicated he was terminated for his post-accident statement he might not pass a drug test and subsequent refusal to sign an agreement presented by Defendant requiring him to undergo counseling and random drug testing to retain his job. The Court found Plaintiff made no showing Defendant’s proffered reason for terminating him was a lie to cover up retaliation.

The District Court’s summary judgment ruling in Defendant’s favor on the conversion claim was also upheld.