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Merchants Food assessed $1.26 million in wrongful termination

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Merchants Food Service, whose Clanton Division is coordinated from the local facility, has been assessed $1.26 million in damages in a wrongful termination case.

On July 19, Merchants’ attorneys Javier Jalice and Cecily L. Kaffer of The Kullman Firm filed for a new trial.

In the motion for a new trial, the Kullman Firm states” the Court erred in excluding certain evidence, and in admitting other evidence, the verdict is not supported by sufficient evidence, and is against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, the

compensatory and punitive damages are excessive, and the punitive damages are

unconstitutional.”

The case was heard in Mobile County Circuit Court and was a jury trial at the request of the plaintiff. The damage payments include $314,862 in compensatory damages and $944,588 in punitive damages.

“Hopefully, it sends a message to Merchants to quit firing people who have worker’s compensation claims because this isn’t the only one,” Attorney James Dailey, who represented Denny Rice, said.

He said there was another case in Florida dealing with the same issue.

“They engage in a pattern and practice of firing people, who have worker’s compensation claims and using intimidation tactics, so people don’t file worker’s compensation claims,” Dailey said.

In the request for a new trial, Merchants’ lawyers state the decision to terminate Rice was based on the needs of the location and that Rice working there again, along with three drivers hired while he was out, would result in too many drivers for the location

” While [Transportation Manager Josh] Averhart did not comply with Merchants’ Employee Handbook policy regarding the event of employees returning from non-FMLA medical leave, there was no competent evidence that he acted because of Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claim,” the request for a new trial states.

The document also states that because Rice now has his CDL he can make more in his current job then he did working for Merchants.

According to case records, Denny Rice was a delivery driver at the Merchants Food Service location in Mobile County when he was injured on the job in July 2014. He filed for worker’s compensation and returned to work on Dec. 8, 2014. According to Dailey, “they fired him the same day.” Dailey said his client had been hurt while working a shift he would not have normally worked.

“It was his off time, but he went back to work to help a co-worker,” Dailey said.

The original complaint was filed on Feb. 6, 2015.

As of press time, Merchants’ legal representation had not returned messages seeking comment.