Court of Appeal Once Again Explains 132a Liability

The Court of Appeal clarified what Labor Code Section 132a means - again. It appears the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board has not adapted to the California Supreme Court's decision in Department of Rehabilitation v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1281 (Lauher).

So, Fowler had significant spine surgery. Initially he could not be cleared to return to work as an order puller / machine operator. The doctor's restrictions permitted him to use equipment for just an hour a day. Then, the doctor changed his mind and returned Fowler to work with no restrictions. Because of the seeming conflict, Fowler and his employer submitted his case to an "AME" doctor, who decided Fowler could return to work.

Fowler filed a workers' compensation discrimination claim under Labor Code Section 132a because of the delay in returning him to work. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board held that Gelson's, the employer, discriminated against Fowler by refusing to accept his doctor's note returning him to work. The Board appeared to apply old law, basically saying that any negative action against an industrially injured worker is a violation of section 132a regardless of whether the employer would take the same action against a non-injured worker.

The Court of Appeal annulled the WCAB decision because Fowler did not prove discrimination - differential treatment:

Here Fowler made no showing that Gelson’s treated him differently from nonindustrially injured employees. That is, Fowler made no showing that Gelson’s would have returned to work a nonindustrially injured employee whose physician provided the same releases, but discriminated against Fowler by not returning him to work. Fowler made no showing that Gelson’s treated him disadvantageously because of the industrial nature of his injury, as compared to how Gelson’s treated a nonindustrially injured employee. Thus he did not make a prima facie case of discrimination in violation of section 132a and did not shift the burden to Gelson’s to establish an affirmative defense.

The case is Gelson's Markets, Inc. v. WCAB and the opinion is here.