Sometimes a case makes you wonder. Bruce Casanova, a former American Airlines baggage handler, told the jury he lied to American and feigned forgetfulness in an “Article 29F” investigation of his work related injury, and refused to provide a written statement concerning the circumstances of his injury as required by the collective bargaining agreement, according to the Seventh Circuit in Casanova v. American Airlines, Inc. Nonetheless, the jury awarded him more than $1 million, including $724,000 for punitive damages, on his argument that American terminated him in retaliation for his anticipated workers compensation claim. Which led the Seventh Circuit to wonder: “How could a jury return a verdict in Casanova’s favor, and award more than $1 million, when his discharge is amply supported by undisputed facts?”
The answer, according to the Seventh Circuit, is that “the trial was hijacked by plaintiff’s counsel and used to protest the Article 29F procedure.” The plaintiff focused the jury on the issue of whether American “should order surveillance of employees who claim to be injured, and whether employers should use such surveillance as the basis of interrogation,” according to the Court. “This case never should have reached a jury,” it held, and set aside the jury’s verdict.
The Court noted that “American has a zero-tolerance policy for material lies by its workers [and that] Casanova has not identified any other worker who behaved in a similar fashion at and after an Article 29F hearing and was not fired.” The Court continued: “Indeed, it is almost impossible to conceive that any employee who conducted himself in this fashion would not be fired, by American Airlines or any other employer that wants to maintain the respect and obedience of its labor force.” The Court added that Casanova did not provide any evidence that American’s explanation for his termination was a pretext for unlawful retaliation.
This was the second Seventh Circuit case within three weeks to uphold an employer’s ability to use surveillance to test the bona fides of a workers compensation claim. In the earlier case, Gacek v. American Airlines, Inc., another former baggage handler sued American Airlines for retaliatory discharge in violation of the state workers compensation law. American had hired a detective agency “to check up on” the plaintiff-injured worker, who had called out sick during the December holiday season. American terminated the plaintiff’s employment after his explanations for his absences were “in tension” with the observations of the detectives. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for American.