Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Mar. 2, 2015, 8:43am

Olin claims two of its employees were included in a retaliatory discharge lawsuit in order to defeat diversity and avoid removal to federal court.

Plaintiff Paul Walters filed his Sept. 12 lawsuit against Olin Corporation, Lisa Steiner and Fred Carpenter.

According to the complaint, Walters worked at Olin’s East Alton facility from May 1992 to August 2003. He alleges he got a tick-borne illness while working in June 2003. His condition allegedly worsened, and he was told by his doctors to stop working for Olin. In June 2006, Walters says he filed claims against the company under the Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Act and the Illinois’ Occupational Diseases Act, both of which were contested through years of litigation.

Walters was observed by an infectious disease specialist and was deemed healthy enough to return to work in March 2010, the suit states. In June 2012, Olin allegedly agreed to let Walters return to work in the same capacity that he left as soon as he was physically capable. Walters claims he was again determined healthy enough to return to his old job at Olin in November 2012.

However, when he took his return-to-work orders to Olin, he claims he was told by human resources personnel, Steiner and Carpenter, to go home. Walters claims he was sent to another doctor of the company’s choosing and was found unable to return to work without restrictions. He argues he was never told what those restrictions were and was later fired from the company in November 2012, the suit states.

The defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on Oct. 17. It claims removal is proper because of the parties’ diversity of citizenship. It explains that Steiner and Carpenter are citizens of Illinois while Olin is a citizen of Virginia with its principal place of business in Missouri.

The defendants argue that Steiner and Carpenter were only included as defendants in the complaint in order to defeat diversity.

Therefore, the defendants argue that the claims against Steiner and Carpenter should be dismissed because “Illinois courts are very reluctant to hold that an employer’s retaliatory conduct amounts to extreme and outrageous conduct.”

Furthermore, in order to state a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must assert specific details that what is typically required, the defendants argue. In this case, however, Walters has asserted general allegations against Steiner and Carpenter.

“After conclusory statements are struck from plaintiff’s complaint, the complaint simply alleges that Ms. Steiner and Mr. Carpenter refused to let Walters resume his job as agreed to in the contract,” the notice states. “This short summary hardly amounts to the detail and specification of facts needed to survive a motion to dismiss claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Judge Staci M. Yandle granted Walter’s motion for remand on Jan. 16, agreeing with the plaintiff that the district court does not have jurisdiction in the matter.

In response, Olin filed an amended motion to dismiss Count II, which alleges Olin violated the language of the settlement contract, and Count VI, which alleges breach of contract. Olin claims the settlement agreement does not give Walter the “unfettered right to return to work as an employee of Olin” as he claims.

“In fact, the Settlement Agreement does not address the circumstances under which he can return to work,” the Feb. 9 motion states.

The defendants also answered the complaint on Feb. 9, denying the allegations against them. They say the plaintiff’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations, the doctrine of unclean hands and the doctrines of waiver, laches and estoppel.

They also claim all actions taken by the defendants were based on legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory and non-pretextual reasons.

Walters seeks more than $300,000 in damages for past and future lost wages and benefits plus court costs.

Peter S. Blasi of Granite City and Ryan M. Furniss of St. Louis represent Walters.

Christine F. Miller and Jordan T. Ault of Husch Blackwell LLP in St. Louis represent the defendants. They request a jury trial.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 14-L-1262

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