Plaintiff-employee brought an action against her former employer seeking actual and punitive damages for retaliatory discharge. The Henry Circuit Court dismissed the complaint pursuant to TR. 12(B)(6) IC 1971, 34-5-1-1 (failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted). The plaintiff appealed. The First District Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Presiding Judge Robertson, affirmed the trial court's dismissal.
The complaint sets out the following facts:
Workmen's compensation acts are designed to afford injured workers "an expeditious remedy both adequate and certain, and independent of any negligence on their part or on the part of the employer"
Workmen's compensation statutes are in derogation of the common law and provide, for those covered, an exclusive remedy for injuries sustained "in the course of" and "arising out of" one's employment. The basic policy behind such legislation is to shift the economic burden for employment connected injuries from the employee to the employer.
Mann et al. v. Schnarr (1950), 228 Ind. 654, 667, 95 N.E.2d 138, 143. See also: Guevara v. Inland Steel Co. (1949), 120 Ind.App. 47, 88 N.E.2d 398; Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Hightower (1939), 107 Ind.App. 46, 22 N.E.2d 875.
Workmen's compensation is for the benefit of the employee. Hoffman v. Brooks Const. Co. (1942), 220 Ind. 150, 41 N.E.2d 613. Accordingly, it is well-established that the Act
The Act creates a duty in the employer to compensate employees for work-related injuries (through insurance) and a right in the employee to receive such compensation. But in order for the goals of the Act to be realized and for public policy to be effectuated, the employee must be able to exercise his right in an unfettered fashion without being subject to reprisal. If employers are permitted to penalize employees for filing workmen's compensation claims, a most important public policy will be undermined. The fear of being discharged would have a deleterious effect on the exercise of a statutory right. Employees will not file claims for justly deserved compensation — opting, instead, to continue their employment without incident. The end result, of course, is that the employer is effectively relieved of his obligation.
Since the Act embraces such a fundamental, well-defined and well-established policy, strict employer adherence is required. IC 1971, 22-3-2-15 (Ind. Ann. Stat. § 40-1215 [1965 Repl.]) states:
We believe the threat of discharge to be a "device" within the framework of 22-3-2-15, and hence, in clear contravention of public policy. By denying transfer and allowing the trial court's dismissal to stand we would be arming unethical employers with common law authority. Once an employee knows he is remediless if retaliatorily discharged, he is unlikely to file a claim. What then is to prevent an employer from coercing an employee? Upholding retaliatory discharge opens the door to coercion and other duress-provoking acts.
Retaliatory discharge for filing a workmen's compensation claim is a wrongful, unconscionable act and should be actionable in a court of law. Although, we know of no other cases in this or in any other jurisdiction holding that such a discharge is actionable, there has been a parallel development in landlord and tenant law. Courts in several jurisdictions have held that "retaliatory evictions" offend public policy.
Retaliatory discharge and retaliatory eviction are clearly analogous. Housing codes are promulgated to improve the quality of housing. The fear of retaliation for reporting violations inhibits reporting and, like the fear of retaliation for filing a claim, ultimately undermines a critically important public policy.
In summary, we hold that an employee who alleges he or she was retaliatorily discharged for filing a claim pursuant to the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act (IC 1971, 22-3-2-1 et seq. (Ind. Ann. Stat. § 40-1201 et seq. [1965 Repl.])) or the Indiana Workmen's Occupational Diseases Act (IC 1971, 22-3-7-1 et seq. (Ind. Ann. Stat. § 40-2201 et seq. [1965 Repl.])) has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. We further hold that such a discharge would constitute an intentional, wrongful act on the part of the employer for which the injured employee is entitled to be fully compensated in damages. Of course, the issue of retaliation should be a question for the trier of fact.
We agree with the Court of Appeals that, under ordinary circumstances, an employee at will may be discharged without cause. However, when an employee is discharged solely for exercising a statutorily conferred right an exception to the general rule must be recognized.
For all the foregoing reasons, the petition for transfer is hereby granted and the order of dismissal by the trial court pursuant to TR. 12(B)(6) is hereby reversed.
ARTERBURN, C.J., and DeBRULER and GIVAN, JJ., concur.
PRENTICE, J., dissents.