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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Munitions Maker Must Face Retaliation Claim

(CN) - A munitions manufacturer must face claims that it fired a worker because his wife's cancer treatment was too expensive, a federal judge ruled.

Terry Booker sued Delfasco LLC and Delfasco Finance LLC in 2013, accusing his employer of disability discrimination and violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Delfasco operates a munitions manufacturing facility in Greene County, Tenn. Booker claimed he was fired in 2012 after 22 years working for the company.

"Mr. Booker alleges that the primary impetus behind his termination was the cost of insuring his wife on the company's health plan, "U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan wrote in ruling that the case can proceed. "Delfasco maintains that its decision to terminate Mr. Booker was unrelated to his wife's illness and was due to his poor work performance."

Booker's wife was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2011 and started cancer treatment that cost more than $150,000, according to the ruling. Some of the medical bills were paid for by Delfasco's employee health insurance plan.

Booker claims a Delfasco human resources employee told him not to seek further treatment for his wife's cancer.

"Mr. Booker testified that [Human Resources Manager Steve] Powell had brought up the issue of his wife's medical expenses in a conversation during the fall of 2011. In that conversation, Mr. Powell told Mr. Booker that expensive medical treatments could cause insurance rates to increase dramatically and that they would have to 'sit down and have a talk' about her healthcare and insurance," the ruling states. "Mr. Booker stated that Mr. Powell instructed him not to discuss the conversation with anyone else. The plaintiff also testified to another conversation in the summer of 2011, wherein Mr. Powell had urged him not to seek treatment for his wife and that money spent on medications to treat advanced cancer was wasted."

Powell and a plant manager fired Booker amidst health insurance renewal negotiations, according to the ruling. Evidence submitted by Booker shows that his wife's continued treatment was going to increase company premiums and employees were told their health insurance lapsed March 1, 2012, the same day Booker was fired. Powell testified that he did not agree with the decision to fire Booker, the ruling states.

Jordan denied Delfasco's summary judgment motion last week, finding that Booker has shown pretext for possible FMLA retaliation and disability discrimination.

"Around the time of Mr. Booker's discharge, Delfasco was engaged in a renewal of its health insurance plan and could easily deduce that terminating Mr. Booker's employment would result in more favorable rates. Mr. Booker was the only employee with a large insurance claim in 2011 and the only employee who was discharged around the time of the insurance plan renewal," Jordan wrote. "After Mr. Booker was terminated, the company did in fact renew its health insurance plan. Based on those facts, a reasonable jury could conclude that the cost of insuring Mrs. Booker was a motivating factor behind Delfasco's decision to terminate Mr. Booker's employment."

Jordan did not address whether Booker's evidence about Delfasco's concern over insurance rates constitutes direct evidence but ruled that Booker has rebutted Delfasco's claim that it fired him for poor performance.

"The court is satisfied that the plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to Delfasco's true motivation for discharging him," the judge wrote. Delfasco makes ammunition containers, pallets, "practice bombs" and other military products, according to its website.

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