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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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