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Hyten v. HNI Corp.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 10, 2018

CHRISTINA HYTEN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
HNI CORPORATION and THE HON COMPANY L.L.C., Defendants-Appellees.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, Nancy S. Tabor, Judge.

         A litigant appeals several rulings on the exclusion of evidence.

          Anthony J. Bribriesco, Andrew W. Bribriesco, and William J. Bribriesco of Bribriesco Law Firm P.LLC, Bettendorf, for appellant.

          David T. Bower and Frank B. Harty of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ. Tabor, J.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         The plaintiff Christina Hyten appeals from an adverse judgment entered against her following a jury trial on her claim she was wrongfully discharged for seeking workers' compensation benefits. On appeal, she challenges three discretionary evidentiary rulings. She contends the district court abused its discretion in excluding evidence concerning the following: (1) the delay in receipt of workers' compensation benefits; (2) the safety of her work assignment following her date of injury; and (3) the company's waiver of a notice defense in the underlying workers' compensation proceeding.

         I.

         The HON Company, L.L.C., is a subsidiary of HNI Corporation. Hyten commenced work at HON's facility through a temporary staffing agency in March 2013. HON hired her directly on July 1, 2013. Hyten worked at an oak laminate factory as a work cell operator doing various assembly tasks in the flat pack department. Hyten worked second shift from 3:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. On July 13, 2013, Hyten allegedly sustained a carpal tunnel injury arising out of her employment. She claims she reported the injury to her Production Team Leader, Rodney Holliday, the same day. He directed her to complete a "HON First Aid Form." Hyten testified she filled out the form and submitted it. Hyten did not obtain the signature of a supervisor as dictated by company policy. Hyten testified no action was taken on her report.

         Hyten testified she told others of her injury after the first aid form was not addressed, but she admitted she did not escalate her unaddressed report as required by company policy. Several weeks after submitting the first aid form, Hyten raised the issue again with Holliday. He recommended some stretches and gave her a splint to wear. She testified she told Production Team Leaders Jim Gibson and Brandon Mathis of the injury. She testified Mathis told her she was "replaceable" if she could not do the job. From the time Hyten filled out the first aid form until January 2014, Hyten did not escalate her report beyond these identified Production Team Leaders.

         Hyten's concerns regarding her injury were addressed in January 2014. At that time, Hyten requested she be moved from second shift to first shift for family reasons. Her request was granted. Hyten then reported her prior injury to her new supervisor, Chad Reich. Hyten filled out a first aid form and obtained Reich's signature. At the same time, Reich issued Hyten a "record of coaching" for not immediately notifying him of the injury when she changed shifts. Hyten filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. She treated with a physician at the end of the month. After several medical appointments, she scheduled a surgery to be performed in March. Hyten testified that, around this time, the factory manager approached her in the parking lot and asked, "When are you going to quit milking it and get back on the line?"

         Throughout her employment, Hyten had attendance issues. The company had a written attendance policy. The policy gave each employee nine attendance credits on an annual basis commencing with the date of employment with two "free passes" granted at the beginning of each year. Each unexcused absence counted as a credit. Each tardy or early leave of two hours or more counted as a credit. Each tardy or early leave of less than two hours counted as a half credit. The policy provided the company would terminate employment when the employee used all nine credits. Hyten did not and does not dispute she used her free passes and nine credits between July 1, 2013 to March 6, 2014. On March 7, the company's Member and Community Relations Manager, a human resources position, met with Hyten's Group Leader and decided to terminate Hyten's employment for violation of the attendance policy. Hyten's employment was terminated on the same date.

         Hyten filed this suit against HON and HNI in October 2014. She claimed the companies terminated her employment in violation of public policy for seeking workers' compensation benefits. The matter was tried to a jury over the course of six days. After six days of testimony, having ...


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