Judge dismisses discrimination, retaliation suit against Weyerhaeuser

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau May 20, 2009, 6:23am

TEXARKANA, Ark. � U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes dismissed an Arkansas resident's claims that Weyerhaeuser terminated him based on his age and as retaliation for a workers' compensation claim.

Judge Barnes granted Weyerhaeuser's motion for summary judgment, dismissing the lawsuit on May 18.

Larry Trotter filed the original lawsuit against Weyerhaeuser on Dec. 3, 2007, in the Circuit Court of Howard County, Ark. Weyerhaeuser removed the case to the federal court in Texarkana, Western District of Arkansas.

Working for the forest products company for 30 years as a kiln monitor, Trotter claimed he was discharged from his position shortly after being injured at work.

However, the company showed that Trotter left his shifts early and often filled out time sheets prior to completing the hours worked.

In 2006, the plaintiff dislocated three fingers on his left hand and filed a workers' compensation claim. It took three months before Trotter was released back to normal work duties. At the time of his release, Trotter did not have a specific job assignment.

The plaintiff states that he is now unable to make a fist with his hand, which has caused disability and impairment.

Trotter argues his immediate supervisor began to treat him in a "harsh fashion" despite his good work record. He alleges he was treated this way in an effort to force him to quit his job.

The plaintiff was terminated less than a month after returning to normal work duties. After being terminated, Trotter accused Weyerhaeuser of retaliating against him for a worker's compensation claim and discriminating against him based on his age.

Weyerhaeuser stated that it discharged Trotter for violating plant site rules.

The company claimed Trotter left two shifts early without permission and falsified his time records by reporting he worked full shifts on both days.

Trotter admits he left early on both occasions and that he did not contact his supervisor prior to leaving.

Although he signed a written relief policy that stated a supervisor must approve leaving for any reason during a shift, Trotter claimed kiln department employees could be relieved by speaking with their work mate.

The plaintiff states that it is custom for his department to enter their work hours prior to working them and correcting any errors later.

According to court records, "plaintiff attempted to amend his incorrect time entry after it was brought to his attention, but he was not allowed to do so and instead was terminated."

Judge Barnes noted that the plaintiff presented conflicting reasons for his leaving his shifts early, with one reason being that the plaintiff thought he was having a medical emergency.

After his termination, Trotter attempted resolution through the union. When unsuccessful, he filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He alleged disability discrimination based on his injured hand.

The EEOC dismissed his claim and explained that any lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of receipt of the letter.

The current lawsuit was filed 13 months after receiving the letter.

The plaintiff did not challenge that his claims are time barred.
Judge Barnes dismissed Trotter's claims of age discrimination and disability discrimination due to those time limitations.

In addition, Judge Barnes dismissed the plaintiff's Arkansas state claim of retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim due to the Arkansas General Assembly eliminating this cause of action in 1993.

The plaintiff argued his termination was against Arkansas public policy.

Assuming Trotter was making a contract claim, Judge Barnes explained that a "contract claim for wrongful discharge as against public policy is one of the exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine recognized by the Arkansas Supreme Court."

Continuing, Judge Barnes wrote that he "cannot find any facts in the record indicating that the Plaintiff was discharged because of an act he did for the public interest."

Judge Barnes granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff's claims on May 18.

Hot Springs attorney Q. Byrum Hunt of the law firm Hurst, Morrissey and Hurst, PLLC represented the plaintiff.

Case No 4:08cv04005

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