In Crown Appliance v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Morton Wong, (4 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 1086, 5 Dist., February 5, 2004), the California Court of Appeal (Fifth Appellate District) addressed the issues of 1) whether the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) correctly found that an employer discriminated against a worker for filing a workers’ compensation claim, and 2) whether the employer’s petition for a writ of review lacked a reasonable basis so as to support an award of attorneys’ fees in favor of the injured worker.
Morton Wong suffered a work-related injury while working as a delivery driver and appliance installer for Crown Appliance (Crown). After Mr. Wong returned to work, Crown’s owner complained about his performance, excluded him from monthly meetings, and eventually fired him. Mr. Wong filed a claim against Crown asserting it discharged him for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Crown’s owner testified she fired Wong because of customer complaints but she could not locate his personnel file to substantiate her claims. A fellow employee testified the owner had told him she thought Wong was faking his injury. A workers’ compensation judge found that Crown violated Labor Code section 132a by terminating Mr. Wong for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Crown filed a petition for reconsideration with the WCAB. The WCAB also found that Crown fired Wong in retaliation for filing a worker’s compensation claim and Crown appealed.
Appellate Court Decision
The Court of Appeal found that the WCAB’s decision was supported by the evidence. Section 132a prohibits discrimination against a worker injured in the course and scope of his or her employment. An employer violates section 132a if it discharges, threatens to discharge, or discriminates against an employee for 1) filing or stating his intention to file a workers’ compensation claim, 2) receiving a disability award, rating, or settlement, or 3) testifying in another’s disability claim. The liability of section 132a “attaches regardless of the employer’s intentions.” If a worker shows that an employer engaged in conduct detrimental to the worker, the employer then has the burden to demonstrate “that its conduct was necessary and directly linked to the realities of doing business.” Here, the Court concluded that the evidence did not support Crown’s claim that it fired Mr. Wong for legitimate business reasons.
Labor Code section 5801 provides that, when an injured worker prevails in defending an employer’s WCAB petition for review, and the appellate court finds there was “no reasonable basis for the petition,” the appellate court must remand the matter to the WCAB for an attorney’s fee award in favor of the injured worker. The Court concluded that Crown’s petition for review was without merit because it asserted only that the WCAB’s decision was unreasonable and not supported by substantial evidence. The Court concluded the great weight of the evidence supports the WCAB’s decision and remanded the matter to the WCAB to make a reasonable attorneys’ fees award to Mr. Wong’s attorney.
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