A September 30th decision in Oklahoma has confirmed that employees of “opt-out” employers in the state can appeal to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission, after exhausting the remedies available in the alternative benefit plan. In Vasquez v Dillard’s, Inc., District Judge Friot concluded that the Oklahoma Employee Injury Benefit Act (the state’s opt-out legislation) is part of Oklahoma’s statutory scheme governing workers’ compensation. Due to the fact that federal law prevents the removal of claims to federal court that “arise under workers’ compensation laws,” the case was remanded back to the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission. Dillard’s had argued that its plan was exempt from Commission review because it is an ERISA plan, but plaintiff’s counsel Bob Burke successfully pointed to the language of the revised Oklahoma workers’ comp statute which states that a worker can appeal to an “appeals committee” first, and then, if he or she is not satisfied, can file a petition with the Commission. Burke has several cases pending questioning the constitutionality of the state’s massive 2013 reform package, including “opt-out” issues.
Read more from WorkCompCentral (paid content) here. Read further analysis from ARAWC (an organization promoting “opt-out”) on The Okie here. Access the case via the Oklahoma Western District Court Pacer system (account required, paid content) here.