Chalus v. Decatur Country Club, Inc.

Decision Date11 October 1996
Citation686 So.2d 278
PartiesDorothy CHALUS v. DECATUR COUNTRY CLUB, INC. 2951043.
CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals

Vernon H. Padgett, Cullman, for appellant.

John S. Key and Jenny L. McLeroy of Eyster, Key, Tubb, Weaver & Roth, Decatur, for appellee.

ROBERTSON, Presiding Judge.

Dorothy Chalus filed a complaint against her former employer, Decatur Country Club, Inc., in the Morgan County Circuit Court, alleging retaliatory discharge. Chalus sought compensatory and punitive damages, interest, and costs.

After Chalus had presented her case at trial, the Country Club moved for a directed verdict. The trial court directed a verdict in favor of the Country Club. The trial court found that Chalus had established a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge, but that the Country Club had "proffer[ed] a legitimate business reason for [Chalus's] discharge: budget cutbacks resulting from less than anticipated revenue that required a decrease in the number of kitchen employees on [Chalus's] shift."

Chalus appeals, raising one issue: whether the trial court erred in directing a verdict in favor of the Country Club.

Our supreme court has held:

"A directed verdict is proper (1) where the nonmoving party has failed to present substantial evidence regarding some element essential to his claim, or (2) where there is no disputed issue of fact upon which reasonable persons could differ. Rule 50(a), Ala.R.Civ.P.; John R. Cowley & Bros., Inc. v. Brown, 569 So.2d 375, 376 (Ala.1990); Koch v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 565 So.2d 226, 228 (Ala.1990); Dobbs v. Alabama Power Co., 549 So.2d 35, 36 (Ala.1989)....

"Whether the trial court erred in denying Driver's directed verdict motion 'is tested by a purely objective determination of whether the party having the burden of proof has produced [sufficient] evidence [to create a factual dispute] requiring resolution by the jury.' Ex parte Oliver, 532 So.2d 627, 628 (Ala.1988). Because the trial court's ruling on a directed verdict motion is based on an objective standard, and, thus, is not discretionary, review of such a ruling on appeal is de novo. Otis Elevator of Gadsden, Inc. v. Scott, 586 So.2d 200, 203 (Ala.1991), citing King Mines Resort, Inc. v. Malachi Mining & Minerals, Inc., 518 So.2d 714 (Ala.1987). Additionally, in reviewing the ruling on a motion for a directed verdict, this Court must view all the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmovant and must entertain such reasonable evidentiary inferences as the jury would have been free to draw. Wadsworth v. Yancey Bros. Co., 423 So.2d 1343, 1345 (Ala.1982)."

Driver v. National Security Fire & Casualty Co., 658 So.2d 390, 392 (Ala.1995).

"[A]n employee may establish a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge by proving that he was 'terminated' because he sought to recover worker's compensation benefits, which would be an impermissible reason." Twilley v. Daubert Coated Products, Inc., 536 So.2d 1364, 1369 (Ala.1988). The burden then shifts to the employer to come forward with evidence that the employee was terminated for a legitimate reason, whereupon the employee must prove that the reason was not true, but a pretext for an otherwise impermissible termination. Id.

The record reveals the following facts. Chalus began working for the Country Club as a day-shift grill cook on January 18, 1994. On March 25, 1994, Chalus was injured when the pastry cook took a rack out of the oven that subsequently fell on Chalus's leg. Chalus reported her injury to the Country Club's "front office." On April 18, 1994, Chalus returned to her doctor, who released her to return to work the next day.

Chalus returned to work on April 19, 1994, and shortly after her shift began Chef Ronald Eugene Casey saw her working and expressed his surprise at seeing her. Casey told Chalus "we must talk"; shortly thereafter, Chalus was called into Casey's office, where Casey and Carol Bradford, the Country Club's general manager, were waiting for her. Bradford told Chalus that she was being "let go" because of "budget cuts." Chalus testified that she asked Bradford and Casey if they were going to call her back to work when business picked up, and that in response Casey shook his head and said, "I don't like doing this," and she said that Bradford told her she could draw unemployment compensation. Chalus requested a letter stating that she would be called back to work when business picked up; Bradford prepared and signed a letter to that effect.

Chalus was never contacted by the Country Club after April 19, 1994; however, Chalus later learned that the Country Club had hired new workers. She testified that she was not called about any job openings and that she would have accepted a job in the snack bar, a job as a waitress, or any other job because, at that time, she was the sole supporter of her husband and their two sons. Chalus looked for work at TCI in Huntsville; Amoco in Huntsville; Bradford Health Services in Madison; Decatur General Hospital; Huntsville Hospital; and several grocery stores, but she was unable to find work.

Casey testified that he is the executive chef at the Country Club and that he is in charge of all aspects of the food operation at the Country Club. He testified that the Country Club has a...

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