Forum for workers’ compensation-based retaliation claims changes

Q&A with Samanthia Marshall

published in The Oklahoman | June 11, 2019

Just days after the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Southon v. Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC, a case in which it ruled that the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission (and not the district courts) had the exclusive authority to hear and decide workers’ compensation-based retaliation claims, Oklahoma Governor Stitt signed a bill that had the effect of reversing that decision.  In a business Q&A with The Oklahoman, McAfee & Taft labor and employment attorney Samanthia Marshall explains how House Bill 2367, which amends Oklahoma’s Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act, will likely impact employers.

“A retaliation action in district court may be more expensive to litigate than it would have been in the commission,” said Marshall.  “At least for the time being, some employers may be forced to defend retaliation claims (brought by different employees) in both the commission and district court. And it’s unclear at this point what date and event are relevant for determining the proper forum for a retaliation claim – that is, does the date of injury, the date of the alleged retaliatory conduct, or simply the date of filing have to be post-amendment for a district court to hear and decide the matter.”

She also noted that the signed bill places no cap on actual damages (so long as they are reasonable) and allows employees to recover punitive damages up to $100,000.  It also allows the prevailing party to recover costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The bill, which was signed on May 28, 2019, is effective immediately.