Kraft Heinz Worker’s Compensation Case Heads to 8th Circuit

Edgar Campbell, a former sanitation employee at Kraft Heinz Food Company, appealed an order to the 8th Circuit from the Southern District of Iowa granting Kraft’s motion for summary judgment on Campbell’s allegation that he was wrongfully discharged per Iowa state law.

Campbell suffered chemical burns as a result of improperly mixed chemicals splashing his arms and wrists on two occasions. The plaintiff claimed the burns occurred as a result of his supervisor failing to oversee his assigned duty of ensuring the right chemicals entered the correct containers and because Campbell’s required gloves contained holes. Campbell thus averred that he was terminated due to the defendant not desiring to pay out workers’ compensation the company assumed Campbell would seek.

The trial court held that the evidence presented a different story. The court stated that the record reflected not a scintilla of evidence, beyond a “self-serving” affidavit from the plaintiff, that the defendant-employer based the termination decision on any considerations around Campbell intending to file a workers’ compensation claim. If anything, wrote the district court, the evidence showed that the plaintiff’s termination came as a result of his refusal to wear rubber, and not cotton, gloves and his failure to properly receive in-house medical care as mandated by safety officers.

Iowa law allows a company to discharge a person for any reason unless said reason violates federal law, a state statute, or undermines a “clearly defined and well recognized public policy of the state.” One of these policies is that the law prohibits employee discharge in retaliation to the employee seeking workers’ compensation. If termination occurs near the timing that workers’ compensation intended to be (or was) sought, this creates an inference of wrongful discharge. However, the court concluded, the inference must be supported by “additional, circumstantial evidence.” As Campbell merely provided evidence of the timing, and nothing more, the court ruled that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of wrongful discharge and granted Kraft’s motion for summary judgment.

Campbell filed a notice of appeal on July 6. The appellate matter is set for briefing on August 17. The plaintiff is represented by Stuart L. Higgins of the Higgins Law Firm, P.L.L.C. Kraft is represented by Martha L. Shaff of Betty, Neuman & McMahon P.L.C. and Daniel A. Kaplan & Katelynn M. Williams of Foley & Lardner LLP.