Sovereign immunity does not protect school district from retaliation

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that there is no sovereign immunity from workers’ compensation retaliatory actions brought against a public school district.

Travis Poke was working as a custodian for the Independence School District when in December 2019 he injured his lower abdomen and groin while trying to bend a cafeteria table, according to Poke vs. Independence School Districtfiled in Jefferson City.

He aggravated the injury in January 2020 when he lifted a full garbage barrel liner at work.

Mr. Poke filed a workers’ compensation claim and the district referred him to a licensed treatment provider. He gave the claimant a urine sample.

The district later fired Mr. Poke because his urine sample tested positive for marijuana. The district also denied its workers’ compensation claim based on its positive drug test.

Mr. Poke filed a lawsuit, claiming that the district’s basis for his termination was a pretense and that he was in fact terminated in retaliation for exercising his rights under state law.

The district filed a motion for summary judgment, saying it was protected by sovereign immunity from retaliatory discharge requests. A trial judge granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that sovereign immunity did not protect the district.

The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, stating that state law prohibits all employers from engaging in retaliatory acts and creates a civil action for damages against all employers who ignore this prohibition.

WorkCompCentral is a sister publication to Business Insurance. More stories here.

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