Fired worker at Kerrville Lowe’s gets $4.3 million

Lawyer says three others dismissed in wake of workers’ compensation claims have sued.

EXPRESS-NEWS BUSINESS WRITER
March, 2005

The lawyer for a woman who won more than $4 million in a lawsuit against a national home improvement chain says his client is among many the company has fired for seeking compensation for work-related injuries.

Late last week, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas awarded former Lowe’s assistant store manager Jana Smith $4.3 million for defamation and punitive damages.

She won an additional $312,000 for lost pay and benefits.

“We are disappointed in the verdict, and our attorneys are reviewing the company’s options,” Lowe’s spokeswoman Julie Yenichek said.

But Smith’s lawyer, Matthew Pearson, said Lowe’s made no offers to settle the case out of court.

“They have a pattern and practice of discriminating against anyone filing a workers’ comp claim,” he said.

As she was closing the Lowe’s Home Center store in Kerrville on a Sunday night in February 2003, Smith fell and injured her knee. She filed a workers’ compensation claim and worked through the pain until her surgery in June of that year, her lawyer Matthew Pearson said.

When Smith returned to work Aug. 25, 2003, she was fired, accused of improperly buying a $4,000 tractor from the store.

“It was a completely false and manufactured allegation,” Pearson said.

The company says Smith bought the tractor at a discount, damaged it and returned it, Pearson said. He maintains a customer bought the tractor and returned it undamaged within the 30-day window the company allows, and that Smith merely sold the customer the tractor.

He said the store’s upper management told other employees Smith was fired for theft, and friends calling the store looking for Smith were given the same story.

“In a place the size of Kerrville, that got around like wildfire,” Pearson said.

Often, Pearson said, Lowe’s pushes recovering employees to quit by placing them in cashier’s positions instead of on light duty in their normal managerial roles.

Three other Kerrville Lowe’s employees were fired after making workers’ comp claims, according to Pearson. He is representing two of them in similar suits against the company.