Iowa Supreme Court Rules That You Can Be Fired For Suing Your Employer For Personal Injuries

I’ve previously discussed Iowa’s at-will employment rule.  Per that law, employees who are not working under an employment contract are considered “at-will employees.”  An at-will employee can fired at any time without warning for any lawful reason or for no reason at all.  But in rare instances the firing of an at-will employee may be illegal and give rise to a claim for wrongful termination.  I summarized wrongful termination law in an earlier post.

Last week the Iowa Supreme Court issued a new wrongful termination decision in Nathan Berry v. Liberty Holdings, Inc.  Mr. Berry’s employer, Liberty Holdings, fired him after he filed and settled a personal injury claim against a company that was also owned by Liberty Holding’s owner.  Mr. Berry claimed that Liberty Holdings wrongfully terminated him in retaliation for making the personal injury claim.

The Iowa Supreme Court concluded that Mr. Berry’s termination did not implicate any public policy concerns, at least any that he raised.  Liberty Holdings thus had the right to fire him in retaliation for pursuing the personal injury claim.  The court did state though that there may be other laws and statutes, not asserted by Mr. Berry, that may protect the right to sue your employer for personal injuries without fear of retaliation.  The court left that question for another day.

The Berry decision could be somewhat confusing because there are certainly instances when an employer cannot fire you for making a claim against it, for example civil rights and discrimination claims, workers’ compensation claims, unemployment benefits claims, FMLA claims, and wage and overtime claims.  The distinction to remember is that such employment claims are usually specifically created by a state or federal statute.  Some of those statutes explicitly state that retaliation is prohibited and some even go so far as to expressly allow a claim for retaliation or wrongful termination if an employer violates the anti-retaliation provisions.  But other claims, like personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits, perhaps arising from a construction defect, car accident, motorcycle crash, or defective product, are not created by statute and those, at least for now, probably do not come with a protection against retaliation.

I can help you with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation about employment law or labor law.

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