Halbrook Wood Obtains Defense Verdict in Rare ERISA Retaliation Case

On January 18, 2022, Judge Gary A. Fenner, in the United States Western District of Missouri, entered a defense verdict in favor of Halbrook Wood clients SPS Companies, Inc. and its related corporate identities. The case was brought by a former employee who alleged he was terminated in retaliation for his objections to the company’s alleged intent to use employee health information in a COVID-related communications plan.

Plaintiff Micah Morrison began his career with the company in 2010 and had worked into an executive level position. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, the company discussed potentially sending a letter to employees with high coronavirus risk factors to consider working from home or using leave to minimize the risk. While no letter was ever sent to high risk employees, Morrison took issue with the potential letter as he believed there had been attempts to obtain health information from the employer’s insurance carrier in violation of medical privacy laws.

Morrison alleged that SPS Companies, Inc. ultimately terminated him as a result of his opposition to the potential letter in Spring 2020. However, the trial quickly revealed that Morrison had been struggling with performance issues prior to the Spring 2020 complaint and that he had missed meetings, been difficult to get ahold of, and had butted heads with supervisors on various projects. In fact, some of his supervisors did not even know that Morrison had made a complaint back in March.

Ultimately, after a 4 day bench trial, tried by Halbrook Wood Attorneys Mitch Wood and Kate Wright, Judge Fenner ruled in favor of the defense on all issues and assessed all costs to the plaintiff.

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