Reese v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., and Beauchamp v. Columbia Lighting, Inc

In Reese v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., and Beauchamp v. Columbia Lighting, Inc., 107 Wn.2d 563, 731 P.2d 497 (Wash. 1987), two consolidated cases, Reese suffered a work-related foot injury for which he received workers' compensation benefits. After being injured, Reese sought to continue work "by performing Grade 12 clerical and light manual work." Reese, 731 P.2d at 499. Sears refused to make any accommodation for Reese's new handicap July 6, 2005 and refused to continue employing Reese absent a full medical release, which his physician could not give. Thereupon, Sears terminated Reese's employment. Reese thereupon brought an action for handicap discrimination under the state's Law Against Discrimination. Beauchamp filed a workers' compensation claim for work-related chronic bronchitis. The claim was still in dispute at the time of the Supreme Court of Washington's decision in his civil action against Columbia. The civil action was based on Columbia's refusal to accommodate Beauchamp's need to wear a gas mask and its refusal to allow him to return to work. Sears and Columbia defended the respective actions against them on the basis of the exclusivity provision of the state's workers' compensation law. The court in rejecting the defense stated: Harmonizing legislative acts is a traditional responsibility of this court. Even if an apparent conflict existed between the state's workers' compensation statutes and the Law Against Discrimination, we would be obliged to reconcile that conflict and give effect to both statutory schemes, if this could be achieved without distorting the statutory language. Here, however, there is no conflict between the two statutory schemes. Under the state's workers' compensation statutes, appellant employees sought recovery for their out of pocket costs (lost wages, medical bills, disability allowance) attributed to a specifically defined physical injury or a disease that arose out of their employment. In contrast, under the Law Against Discrimination appellant employees claim they were injured, not by the physical workplace injuries that gave rise to their respective disabilities, but by a particular employer action taken months after they became disabled. It is the employer response to the disabled worker that is at issue . . . For purposes of the Law Against Discrimination, it does not matter how the handicap arose; only the employer's response to the handicap matters . . . Inasmuch as there is no conflict, we need not choose between giving full effect to either the Law Against Discrimination or the workers' compensation 'statutes' exclusive remedy provision. The Legislature's intent is upheld by protecting the integrity of both statutory schemes. No one is excluded from the protection of the Law Against Discrimination. Under the workers' compensation statutes, employees will continue to receive the sure but limited remedy for their workplace injuries, and employers will remain protected from all court actions arising out of those injuries. (Id. at 502-03.)