ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — After recent FOX Files investigations, many viewers have been asking about state employees fired while out on disability.
Twice in October we brought you reports on workers fired while recovering from injury after high-profile incidents.
Work zone crash survivor Mike Brown was fired by MoDOT while recovering from a brain injury and corrections officer Erin Bray was fired by DOC while recovering from an assault by an inmate.
“They jump out because it seems unfair, and it seems wrong,” said employment lawyer Paige Sparks of the Sparks Law Firm. “You would think of course there should be something you should be able to do, some kind of legal recourse, but unfortunately most of the time there isn’t.”
Brown was fired in October after telling a state doctor he was using marijuana in his recovery. “I believe this was a setup,” he said at the time.
Bray says she was fired after the Missouri Department of Corrections contended, she was not recovering quickly enough. She told us in October, “I was terminated for abandoning my post, when I couldn’t physically handle going back to the prison.”
Sparks said, “Unfortunately with Missouri employment law, it’s very favorable to employers and not employees. We have ‘at will’ employment which means you can be fired at any time for any reason as long as it’s not an illegal reason.”
Sparks said former employees might have a case if they can prove their employers discriminated. For example, she explained, “If they’re only enforcing that against males but not females, that’s one way we can kind of look into that further.”
That could also be the case if you’re a whistleblower, but Sparks warns Missouri law recently narrowed that definition.
“Back in 2017, the law changed, so now we have to show that the main reason someone was fired was because they made a complaint,” said Sparks. For example, before it used to be a contributing factor. Unfortunately, it’s just continuing to chisel away at those rights that employees have.”
Erin Bray continues fighting for records in her case, in hopes of protecting other officers from a similar assault.
Mike Brown also continues his fight for safer highway work on the one-year anniversary of the Nov. 18 fatal work zone crash in south St. Louis County.