Local worker claims termination due to request for medical treatment

Kelly Holleran Nov. 18, 2009, 7:00am

A Jefferson County man has filed suit against his former employer, alleging he was terminated after he persistently requested the chance to see a doctor on the company's dime for an alleged workplace injury.

Sean D. Lacroix claims he was working at defendant Pinchback Industries, where he had been employed since 1994, when he suffered an on-the-job injury to his lower back on March 12.

According to the complaint filed Nov. 13 in Jefferson County District Court, Lacroix reported the injury to his foreman, John Murphy, but Murphy refused to offer Lacroix any aide or to send Lacroix to a physician.

Prior to Lacroix's injury, the company had notified all its employees that it had become a non-subscriber and was no longer participating in the Texas Workers' Compensation program. Lacroix believes this to be the reason why it was so difficult for him to obtain medical treatment.

So, Lacroix continued to work despite his injuries, but also repeatedly complained of the incident to his foreman. However, each time Lacroix received the same response and could not obtain medical treatment.

On March 19, after receiving no help from the foreman, Lacroix visited the shop supervisor and reported his incident. This time, the company superintendent drove Lacroix to the company doctor, who refused to examine or treat Lacroix, telling him Pinchback agreed only to pay for a doctor's visit, the suit states.

"During the following week, the Plaintiff continued to work his regularly scheduled shift," the complaint says. "His pain continued to worsen and it was becoming increasingly difficult to perform his job duties. He complained of pain daily to his foreman and requested to be seen by a 'real doctor.'"

Again, Murphy refused to help Lacroix find any medical treatment and allegedly threatened Lacroix with termination if he refused to stop his complaints.

Lacroix claims he decided it was time to make a repeat visit to his supervisor, who advised Lacroix he planned on talking with defendant and Pinchback owner Carl Skiles about the incident.

According to the suit, Skiles told Lacroix that he did not believe Lacroix was in enough pain to warrant a trip to a doctor's office and asked Lacroix why he did not go to his own doctor.

"The Plaintiff informed Mr. Skiles that he did not have to pay for treatment out of his own pocket, and further that since it was a work injury, he believed the employer should be responsible for paying for any treatment," the suit states.

On March 26, Skiles finally sent Lacroix to see Dr. Davis at Xpress Care in Beaumont, where it was determined that Lacroix did indeed have an injury. Davis wrote Lacroix a prescription for light work duty and referred him to a spine specialist, according to the complaint.

Upon his return to work the same day, Lacroix noticed the shop supervisor removing all advertisements warning employees of the company's non-subscriber status to Texas worker's compensation, the complaint says.

"It is alleged that on or about March 26, 2009, Defendants officially notified workers' compensation that a claim had been filed," the suit states. "The notices were being replaced with new notices indicating that the employer in fact carried workers' compensation insurance coverage. The foreman, John Murphy approached the Plaintiff and said 'you dug you own grave; you know they're going to fire you.'"

Sure enough, on Sept. 17, Lacroix was fired after the company hired about eight additional employees to work in its shop, he claims.

"The termination notice indicated the Plaintiff was being terminated due to a reduction of force," the suit states. "However, no other employees were terminated or laid off at that time. At the time Plaintiff was discharged, although he was still working under doctor-prescribed 'light-duty,' the Plaintiff had continued to work and had performed the essential functions of his job at all times."

In his suit, Lacroix alleges workers' compensation retaliation, discrimination, fraud and fraud by non-disclosure.

Because of his termination, Lacroix claims he suffered mental anguish.

He is seeking a judgment for back wages, front pay and punitive, actual and exemplary damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest, costs, attorneys' fees and other relief to which he may be entitled.

He will be represented by Eric Wayne Newell, Jason L. Cansler and Ryan Douglas White of Brent Coon and Associates in Beaumont.

Jefferson County District Court case number: A185-325.

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