Louisiana Record

Monday, February 17, 2020

Employee's PTSD-based complaint against Shell Oil, MetLife moves ahead


By Angela Underwood | Jun 24, 2018

General court 4

A Louisiana judge ruled on motions to dismiss a complaint by combat war veteran, who alleged the wrongful denial of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder coverage.

Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has denied defendant Shell Oil Co.’s motion to dismiss and granted in part MetLife Insurance’s motion to dismiss brought against them by plaintiff Gregory Washington in a June 12 order.

Washington, a veteran who worked for Shell after serving in the Armed Forces and collected short-term disability based on harassing coworkers and taxing environment, was denied long-term disability by MetLife based on a policy provision that excluded wartime injuries.

Though MetLife denied Washington further payment, the veteran signed a severance agreement, particularly promising in a release to never further charge violations of the Uniformed Services Employment Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) against MetLife. But Washington went back on his promise, leaving Milazzo to consider both Shell and MetLife’s motion to dismiss all charges against them. 

First addressing Shell’s motion, Milazzo acknowledges though Washington simultaneously accepted $30,000 and waived his USERRA rights, Washington “correctly points out, Defendant’s argument that the Release prevents Plaintiff’s claims for violation of USERRA is an affirmative defense,” according to the order.

For a claim to be dismissed on affirmative defense, Milazzo notes the defense has a duty to appear on the face of the complaint. Washington said the only reason he signed the release was “not because he believed that the rights provided in the Agreement were more beneficial than his USERRA rights, but rather because of the severe financial distress and emotional duress he continued to suffer,” according to the order.

Based on the clear clause that a veteran must not be in duress when signing away USERRA rights, Milazzo ruled that “Defendant’s affirmative defense does not appear on the face of the Complaint, and Defendant has therefore not shown grounds for dismissal,” according to the order.

Moving onto MetLife’s motion to dismiss, Milazzo points out that along with the same arguments as Shell, the insurance company also argued “that it is not an ‘employer’ under the terms of USERRA and therefore cannot be liable for its violation, and that ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act) is Plaintiff’s exclusive remedy and precludes his claims,” according to the order.

Milazzo denied MetLife’s first argument, proving that in fact the insurance company was considered an employer of Washington “because MetLife had the requisite authority and control to deny Plaintiff a benefit of employment,” according to the order.

Furthermore, Metlife’s argument that ERISA was Washington’s exclusive remedy was also denied by the judge, who noted, “plaintiff does not assert that MetLife failed to follow the terms of the Plan, but rather, that the Plan is discriminatory and does not provide him coverage as written,” according to the order.

However, Milazzo did find favor with MetLife regarding the provisions of ERISA blocking Washington’s claim. 

“Plaintiff’s counsel admitted at oral argument that he had no defense to Defendants’ preemption argument,” Milazzo wrote. “Accordingly, Plaintiff’s state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress are dismissed with prejudice.”

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