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Johnson v. Manitowoc Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

September 26, 2018

RHONDA JOHNSON Plaintiff-Appellant

          Appealed from the Office of Workers' Compensation, District 1-W Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 16-01984 Linda Lea Smith Workers' Compensation Judge

          THE LAW OFFICE OF ALLEN COOPER, Counsel for Appellant LLC J. Allen Cooper, Jr. Zachary A. Shadinger

          HURLBURT, MONROSE & ERNEST, Counsel for Appellees APLC George D. Ernest III

          Before PITMAN, GARRETT, and McCALLUM, JJ.

          GARRETT, JUDGE

         The claimant, Rhonda Johnson, appeals from a judgment dismissing her claims for workers' compensation benefits against her employer, Manitowoc Co., d/b/a Frymaster Co., and its insurer, Sentry Insurance, A Mutual Company. In written reasons, the workers' compensation judge ("WCJ") concluded that the claimant, who suffers from de Quervain's tenosynovitis ("DQT"), failed to prove that she suffered from an occupational disease caused by her job. We affirm.


         Frymaster builds commercial frying equipment for companies like McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. It operates two plants in Shreveport and employs about 550 people.

         The claimant was employed by Frymaster in 1999. She worked in several different positions, all of which required typing for several hours per day. After being an order processor for two to three years, the claimant worked as a Customer Service Representative I for about two years and a Customer Service Representative II for seven to eight years. She testified that she spent about four hours per day typing in these positions. She was promoted to Customer Service Representative III in April 2015. She testified that this job required typing between four and five hours per day. This job was described at trial by Frymaster's representative as a "customer interfacing position." It involved taking calls from dealer groups, taking orders, preparing orders, and making copies for files. It required her to utilize email, the telephone, and the fax machine.

         In about 2002, she was successfully treated for carpal tunnel syndrome ("CTS") in both hands with conservative measures that did not include surgery. She did not make a workers' compensation claim for her CTS. She testified that in July 2015, she developed pain in her right thumb, wrist, and hand. She was treated by Dr. Gordon Mead, an orthopedic surgeon, for these complaints along with claims of knee and foot pain. In January 2016, he diagnosed her as suffering from DQT. Her employment with Frymaster was terminated in early February 2016, shortly after she contacted the human resources department about her wrist issue.

         In March 2016, the claimant filed a disputed claim for compensation with the Office of Workers' Compensation. She asserted that, due to repetitive keyboard operation during the last 16 years, she had developed DQT in her right hand and wrist. She claimed that she had been diagnosed in August 2015 and was fired when she inquired about workers' compensation benefits in January 2016. She sought penalties and attorney fees for the employer's failure to authorize medical treatment and pay weekly indemnity benefits. The employer and its insurer answered with a general denial in April 2016.

         Trial was held on July 26, 2017. In addition to the claimant's medical and personnel records, the parties submitted the depositions of Dr. Mead, the claimant's treating physician, and Dr. Kenneth Odinet, the physician chosen by the employer. Additionally, the claimant testified, as did John Leslie Baker, Frymaster's human resources director and its representative at trial.

         In her testimony, the claimant stated that she began feeling pain in her right thumb in July 2015, that she could not move it, and that it kept locking up on her. She also described tenderness that went from over her knuckles on her right hand to midway between her wrist and elbow. She was referred to Dr. Mead by a coworker and saw him for the first time in August 2015. She testified that she last worked at Frymaster on December 18, 2015, and was on vacation until she saw Dr. Mead for the second time on January 4, 2016. She testified that, after her appointments on January 4 and 11, 2016, Dr. Mead had her take a week off of work.

         The claimant asserted that she never realized that she had a workers' compensation claim until January 18, 2016, when it was mentioned by a receptionist at the occupational therapy clinic to which she had been sent by Dr. Mead. When the claimant turned in her paperwork, the receptionist asked, for billing purposes, whether she was there for a workers' compensation matter. The claimant then made inquiries to her claims examiner at Matrix Absence Management, a third-party company used by Frymaster to process matters arising under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Next, she contacted Frymaster's human resources department. Subsequently, she received a letter terminating her employment with Frymaster in early February 2016.

         Baker explained the steps of Frymaster's progressive disciplinary process, which required two written warnings, a suspension, and then termination. He testified that the claimant had received written warnings for minor matters and had been suspended without pay for the first week of December 2015 for her role in running an illegal football betting pool at work. (The other two participants, who had larger roles in the enterprise, were fired.) Thus, he testified, when it was learned that she ...

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