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Worker's lawsuit alleging retaliatory discharge over comp claim is dismissed

James Menghini sued Edwards Automotive, a UP car dealership, alleging that he was illegally fired for filing a workers comp claim.  Menghini had previously suffered two back injuries at work in the parts department, missing short periods of employment and undergoing physical therapy.  On each occasion, the dealership disciplined Menghini for failing to wear a back brace.  After the second incident, he was transferred to a lower pay job in the service department.  When he asked for an increase in pay he was allegedly told that "he was lucky to have a job." 

Three months later, Menghini allegedly caused a co-worker discomfort when he told her "You didn't see anything" while giving salvaged alloy wheels to another co-worker.  Menghini claimed the statement was a joke; the dealership's owners deemed it a threat and cause for a loss of trust.  They fired him two weeks before he was to undergo back surgery.  Menghini filed suit, arguing that his firing was in retaliation for seeking workers comp coverage of the back surgery.  He claimed that the timing of his firing, the prior statement that "he was lucky to have a job" in the context of his transfer to a lower-paying job, and the two prior discipline notices arising out of his back injuries all constituted "direct evidence" of discrimination or retaliation and necessitated a jury determination of his rights. 

The Court of Appeals disagreed and dismissed his claim.  It ruled that none of these alleged events constituted direct evidence of discrimination and that as a matter of circumstantial evidence, Menghini had failed to show that the proferred explanation for his discharge was pretextual.  The judges maintained that this holding was not inconsistent with a prior ruling that might have been binding on the panel.  Under similar circumstances, another panel of the Court had held that a single comment by the employer that suggested discrimination or retaliation was sufficient to create a question of fact for the jury.

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