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Military Contractors Worker Comp Retaliation Case Revived

For a pair of former military contractors, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals may have finally cut through all the red tape to let their case get up to the summary judgment stage.

The contractors filed claims of for retaliatory discharge and breach of contract. Notably, although only one was injured on the job, both contractors were abruptly terminated, after a work comp claim was filed, despite their contract requiring an ample notice period for terminations without, or with curable, cause.

In short, while moving sand bags around at an U.S. military base in Iraq, one contractor hurt his back. When the base doctor, another contractor, recommended he seek treatment in the United States, the other listened and took a short leave to do so. While on leave, he filed a worker comp claim. The base doctor had supported the claim. And, to make a long story short, both the doctor and injured worker got fired.

What's So Appealing?

While the case (Elliot v. Torres) may seem to sound as a clear cut worker comp retaliation matter, it has taken some time to wind its way through the courts. It is before the Fifth Circuit for the second time before the pleadings have even settled. The complication involved the Base Camp Act, which pretty much provides for U.S. military contractors to be covered by worker comp.

The injured contractor's case was limited on appeal to only his employer's alleged contract violations, as anything related to his own worker comp claim is preempted by the Base Camp Act, like it would be under most states' worker comp laws. However, the doctor contractor's claims, as the D.C. Circuit found, were entirely outside the Act. It is alleged the base doc refused to alter his report at the request of his employer.

The decision was issued by a unanimous three judge panel. Whether the defendant will request en banc review is currently unknown.

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