Alaska Supreme Court Overturns $2.3 Million Jury Award in Controversial Social Worker Retaliation Case

An Alaska Supreme Court ruling has invalidated a $2.3 million jury award granted to a former state social worker who had sued her employer for retaliation and wrongful termination. The court upheld the lower court’s decision to deny a motion for a new trial on liability filed by the Office of Children’s Services, while overturning the employee’s award. The agency argued that the jury award duplicated the compensation the plaintiff had already received in workers’ compensation benefits. The Supreme Court determined that there wasn’t enough evidence in the trial record to settle the matter.

The former employee claimed that she lost her job after expressing concerns about the safety of a client’s father, who had become violent and attacked her. She filed for workers’ compensation benefits after sustaining injuries from an assault in December 2016, but the claim remained unresolved during the trial.

During the February 2020 trial, the jury ruled in favor of the woman, granting her $2.3 million in damages. However, later on, the agency’s attempt to amend the judgment to offset the workers’ compensation benefits paid to the employee was denied by the trial court.

The Alaska Supreme Court has determined that the unresolved workers’ compensation claim created uncertainty as to whether the benefits would overlap with and duplicate any part of the economic damages awarded by the jury. As a result, the court has sent the issue back to the trial court, instructing it to hold an evidentiary hearing and address the potential duplication of damages.

This ruling highlights the intricacies and complexities of cases involving employment-related retaliation and termination. It emphasizes the importance of carefully considering all relevant evidence and ensuring that potential overlaps in compensation are thoroughly examined. The trial court now has the opportunity to reevaluate the situation and come to a fair resolution.

This case serves as a reminder of the challenging environment faced by social workers and the need for proper protection and support when dealing with dangerous clients. It also sheds light on the significance of workers’ compensation benefits and their potential impact on legal battles relating to workplace injuries and subsequent termination. The outcome of the evidentiary hearing will greatly impact both parties involved, as it will ultimately determine whether the former employee is entitled to the full jury award or if adjustments need to be made to account for the workers’ compensation benefits received.