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Attorney general sues AT&T for suspending injured workers

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AT&T’s Indiana operating company faces a discrimination lawsuit from the Indiana Department of Labor for suspending three workers, allegedly because they reported work-related injuries.

The department sued Indiana Bell Telephone Co., the local AT&T subsidiary, July 24 in response to complaints Daniel Drummond, Shon Payne and William Ingram filed with the state this year.

The lawsuit alleges the company “has a practice and policy” of suspending employees for at least one day after they report work-related injuries.

“This policy punishes employees for reporting injuries and consequently prevents or deters Indiana Bell employees from exercising their right to report work-related injuries,” the lawsuit states.

AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company complies with all workplace health and safety regulations.

“We do not suspend employees for reporting a work-related injury,” Richter said. “Employees may be suspended, however, for violating our safety rules and policies, on which they are trained.”

A Department of Labor spokesman referred questions to the Attorney General’s Office, where spokesman Bryan Corbin declined to comment beyond what was stated in the lawsuit.

Drummond and Payne, both premises technicians, and Ingram, a customer services specialist, were hurt in late 2012 or early 2013, according to the suit.

Drummond, who has worked for AT&T for two years, slipped on a clear substance while working at a Walmart in January. The company’s medical clinic diagnosed him with a “severely sprained knee and ankle,” the suit says. He missed 22 days of work.

When he returned in February, AT&T suspended him a day because he “violated company safety practices by not surveying the work area and seeing a clear substance on the workplace floor,” according to the suit.

Payne, a one-year employee, was working at a customer's home in February when he noticed an attic door partially open. He pulled on a rope to close it, but the door suddenly sprang shut and a piece of plastic on the rope cut his finger.

In March, a manager questioned Payne about the accident. The company suspended him for a day for violating safety policies, the suit says.

Ingram, a 13-year AT&T veteran, injured his arm in October when he tried to place a ladder on a truck. He went to the medical clinic the next day, but his condition worsened over the next few weeks. He underwent surgery and missed three months of work.

A manager questioned him after he returned to work, and the company suspended him a day for violating safety policy, according to the suit.

Each man filed a complaint with the Department of Labor soon after his suspension. Drummond and Ingram still work for AT&T. Payne left, but it was “unrelated to his recent injury,” Richter said.

Richter would not comment on AT&T’s reasoning behind each suspension.

“I’ll reiterate, though, that we do not suspend employees for reporting a work-related injury,” he said.

Zoeller’s office claims AT&T “unlawfully discriminated against Drummond, Payne and Ingram … because they exercised their right to report a work-related injury to Indiana Bell management.”

The lawsuit describes the company’s actions as “willful, malicious, and oppressive.”

The lawsuit seeks compensation for the wages and benefits each man lost to his suspension, as well as any other expenses they had in connection to the unpaid time off and all prosecution costs.

The suit seeks unspecified “appropriate punitive damages."

Among non-financial relief, the Department of Labor seeks an injunction that would prevent AT&T from “continuing to discriminate” against employees injured at work.

The state also wants a court order requiring the company to post a notice in a “prominent location accessible to all employees” informing workers of their health and safety rights.
Originally published at IBJ.com.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller was suing Indiana Bell. The attorney general is not a party to the case; he is instead the plaintiff’s lawyer, as he typically is whenever a state government agency files a civil lawsuit against a defendant.

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