G&K Services Must Pay $361K to Fired Employee
G&K Services, Inc., was ordered last week to pay $361,000 to a former employee after a Hennepin County jury determined that the employee's Workers' Compensation claim was a “motivating factor” in his termination.
James Dubiel-who sued G&K in February 2010-will receive $111,000 for lost wages and emotional distress and another $250,000 in punitive damages from the Minnetonka-based manufacturer of branded identity apparel.
A G&K representative did not return a Monday morning phone message seeking comment about the outcome of the lawsuit. But Dubiel's attorney, Michelle Dye Neumann of Minneapolis law firm Halunen & Associates, said in a Monday statement: “James Dubiel loved his job. This made his termination particularly painful, to say nothing of the difficulty of finding work in this economy. This verdict lets employers know that the laws mean what they say. Employees who are injured on the job cannot be fired because they report an injury and seek the compensation due to them under the law.”
Dubiel began working for G&K as a shuttle driver in December 2008. In that role, he transported laundry and floor mats between the company's various Twin Cities-area processing facilities.
In March 2009, the G&K delivery truck that Dubiel was driving was sideswiped by another vehicle when a car lost control on Highway 100, according the complaint filed on behalf of Dubiel. During the incident, Dubiel hit his head on the ceiling of the vehicle and suffered lower back injuries.
Dubiel sought medical attention for his back pain on March 20, 2009, and submitted an injury report to G&K's human resources manager five days later, according to the complaint. The company's Workers' Compensation insurance carrier received it on April 1, 2009.
Around that same time, Dubiel visited a chiropractor who instructed him not return to work until April 13, 2009. The chiropractor also prohibited him from sitting for longer than 45 minutes at a time and lifting more than five pounds upon his return to work. Dubiel's work restrictions prevented him from loading and unloading heavy cargo from his delivery truck and required him to have an assistant to travel with him and help with the loading and unloading.
According to the complaint, the production lead in Dubiel's department began telling employees that Dubiel was faking his injuries and the company stopped accommodating them. A manager allegedly said that Dubiel was “out to cause trouble” for the company, and other employees threatened to physically harm him.
Dubiel reported the threats to management on at least three different occasions, the suit said. He was notified on May 4 that his employment had been terminated because he made “multiple false representations” about his medical history during his pre-employment physical exam in 2008.
G&K is among Minnesota's 40-largest public companies based on revenue, which totaled $$833.6 million for the fiscal year that ended in July 2010. It employs about 7,500.