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January 19, 2004

Hearing impaired worker awarded USD 612,000 for unjust firing

After 32 years as an operator at a chemical plant in Texas, Victor Skrabanek began having hearing problems. Tests indicated that his hearing loss was caused by excessive noise in the plant in Bay City, south of Houston.

But when he filed for worker's compensation, his employer, Celanese Chemical Corporation, denied his claim. Shortly afterwards, in January 2000, Skrabanek was fired for loading the wrong chemical into a tank.

Three and a half years later, in August 2003, a jury in Matagorda County awarded the former operator USD 612,000 after finding that the company terminated Skrabanek in retaliation for his filing of a worker's compensation claim. Evidence at the trial indicated that incorrect loading is not typically a firing offense, according to Gregg Robinson, an employment lawyer with Rosenberg and Associates in Houston.

Celanese contended that Skrabanek was on a termination warning, and that another error would result in termination. But the company was unable to produce notes required to be filed in the employee's personnel file documenting earlier warnings.

A lawyer for Celanese said that the company will appeal the verdict.

Today, Skrabanek works at a department store assembling bicycles. After his dismissal, he paid USD 5,000 out of his own pocket for the hearing aids he needed.

Source: The Houston Chronicle, August 5, 2003

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