By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- A former employee of George's Chicken reasserts her claims the plant fired her because she sought benefits after suffering an injury on the job in 2009.
Strasburg resident Faith D. Gilkey refiled her complaint against the company Monday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court in which she accuses the plant of violating state law regarding workers compensation.
Gilkey, represented by Harrisonburg attorney Timothy E. Cupp, seeks $500,000 in damages, back pay and benefits of $30,000 plus an additional $30,000 per year from the date of the filing. Gilkey also seeks reinstatement to her position as scaler with benefits she would have received or, in the alternative, front pay and benefits.
The plaintiff also seeks a jury trial.
The single-count complaint accuses George's of committing workers' compensation retaliation.
George's treated employees with work-related injuries differently depending upon whether or not they chose to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits," the complaint states. "In the event that employees with work injuries filed claims or asserted rights to workers' compensation benefits, they ultimately were fired. George's retains those employees who are injured in a work-related incident, but who do not file for such benefits.
"George's ... discharged Gilkey solely because she intended to file or had filed a workers' compensation claim," the complaint states.
The defendant, represented by the Charlottesville law firm Lenhart Obenshain, filed its answer to the complaint Wednesday. George's denies any wrongdoing and, in its answer, asks the court to dismiss the complaint and award the defendant the costs for the matter.
The defendant denies the allegation in the complaint, which states "Gilkey performed her job well." While George's admits to allegations made concerning Gilkey's workplace injury and the fact she had medical appointments but denies other allegations made by the plaintiff.
"Defendant admits that sometime after Gilkey injured her knee, she used inappropriate language in violation of company policy," the answer states.
Gilkey had filed the complaint initially in June 2010 but the court granted a voluntary nonsuit on Nov. 1, 2011. The action allowed Gilkey to refile the complaint.
Gilkey worked as a scaler for George's Chicken in Edinburg from November 2008 until her termination in late June 2009, according to the complaint. As a scaler, Gilkey checked the weights of boxes and ensured the accuracy of their labels, the complaint states. The position also required Gilkey to lift boxes weighing from 40 to 90 pounds, according to the complaint.
Gilkey suffered an injury to her left knee while at work on Jan. 22, 2009, according to the complaint. The employee went through the procedures to report the workplace injury, the complaint notes.
"Gilkey immediately notified her supervisor and the plant nurse of the knee injury," the complaint states. "The plant nurse initially tried to get Gilkey to return to work at the scaler position without treatment of her injury, but ultimately allowed Gilkey to go to the hospital for treatment."
The plaintiff was seen at the hospital the same day as the injury also was referred to an orthopedic doctor for evaluation, according to the complaint. George's assigned Gilkey to work in the cafeteria for several weeks and she was seen by one of the company's workers-compensation panel doctors who continued her on light duty through the winter and spring of 2009.
"During Gilkey's light-duty assignment at work, she received negative comments from managers and supervisors at George's regarding her injury and her being on light duty," the complaint states. "The safety manager asked Gilkey numerous times about her intention to return to full duty, told her that she was fine and made comments indicating that her knee problem was an 'age thing.' He also said that he worked every day, and that she could work full duty as well. During the light-duty assignment, Gilkey was forced to engage an attorney to protect her interests in regard to her claims against George's for workers' compensation arising from her injury."
The orthopedic doctor assigned to treat Gilkey through workers compensation returned the employee to full-time work in her scaler position in May 2009, according to the complaint. After Gilkey returned to work as a scaler, she continued to experience pain in her knee.
"The pain persisted," the complaint states.
The plaintiff understood that George's, self-insured for its workers' compensation obligations, had to approve additional treatments even after the doctor returned her to work, according to the complaint. Gilkey went to the plant nurse and advised she would need to see a workers' compensation approved doctor again because of the ongoing problems with her knee.
"The plant nurse attempted to attribute the pain to lack of use," the complaint states.
Gilkey experienced harassment and "hyperscrutiny" from management relating to her knee injury, which increased substantially after she advised George's she needed to see a doctor again but the employee eventually secured a new appointment for July 1, 2009. The visit revealed Gilkey had a torn meniscus, the complaint states.
Within two weeks of notifying George's she needed to see the doctor again, Jaime Luna, a human resources worker at the company, confronted the plaintiff and "accused her of using 'obscenity' toward another employee," according to the complaint.
"The statement by Mr. Luna concerning Gilkey's alleged use of obscenity at the plant toward another employee was false, and Mr. Luna and George's knew it was false," the complaint states. "In fact, Mr. Luna has admitted the falsity of this allegation to Gilkey."
George's suspended Gilkey on June 19, 2009, without pay for three days and Mr. Luna told the plaintiff there would be an investigation into the incident though that statement also proved false, according to the complaint.
"Gilkey objected to the suspension and state that she had engaged in no misconduct and had not used any obscenity as she supposedly was being accused," the complaint states.
Gilkey returned from the "unjustified suspension" on June 22, 2009, and met with Luna who provided the employee with a written corrective action report and then fired the plaintiff over her objections, according to the complaint. Luna had written in the report that Gilkey had use obscene language toward another worker which the plaintiff claims is false and that the human resources employee knew not to be true.
"George's replaced Gilkey with an Hispanic woman in the scaler position," the complaint states. "George's had other employees who actually engaged in the same conduct for which Gilkey had been falsely accused. Those employees were not fired."