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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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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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