In Kighwaunda V. Yardley v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LCC, the Tennessee Supreme Court determined there was not a viable cause of action in Tennessee for retaliatory failure to hire due to a prior workers compensation claim. There has, however, long been a cause of action for retaliatory discharge for asserting a work injury. To be successful with a cause of action of this type the employee must establish numerous elements including:
1. The plaintiff was an employee of the defendant at the time of the injury;
2. The plaintiff made a claim against the defendant for workers’ compensation benefits;
3. The defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment; and
4. The claim for workers’ compensation benefits was a substantial factor in defendant’s motivation to terminate the plaintiff.
The Supreme Court, however, held there is a fundamental difference between discharging an employee as a result of a work-related injury and refusing to hire a job applicant because they previously filed for workers’ compensation benefits. In this case, the claimant had a work-related injury but was ultimately released to perform full duty work and applied for a job with Hospital Housekeeping Systems but was not hired, at least in part, due to the fact she previously filed a workers’ compensation claim. The claimant sued Hospital Housekeeping Systems in Federal District Court raising a number of claims one of which was the company failed to hire her because she had a previous workers’ compensation claim which gave rise to a cause of action for a “retaliatory failure to hire.” The claimant recognized this cause of action had not previously been recognized in Tennessee. The Federal District Court requested the Tennessee Supreme Court to consider whether or not there should be a cause of action for this. Federal Courts certify questions of this type to State Supreme Courts when a Federal Court is ruling on a cause which involves an issue that has not been previously addressed by the State or its Legislature.
Our Supreme Court determined Tennessee is an employment-at-will state and there has been no such cause of action created by the Legislature. As a result, the Supreme Court was unwilling to recognize this as a cause of action. As a side note, this does not mean she had no claim for disability discrimination under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA).