Court of Appeals Sides With Victim in Driskell vs Summit

Article Originally Published on The Charlotte News & Observer by Joe Marusak

Developer fired man whose boss beat him up. Court sides with victim in Charlotte case.

A general contractor that built some of Charlotte’s largest apartment developments was wrong to have fired a worker whose boss repeatedly punched him the face for complaining about safety at a Charlotte job site, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld a local jury verdict that ordered Florida-based Summit Contracting Group to pay $750,000 to the fired worker, Justin Driskell of Georgia.

Summit’s liability, including attorney’s fees, will total around $1 million, Driskell’s lawyer, Josh Van Kampen of Charlotte, said.

“Most importantly though, the decision could have huge implications for protecting employees in the workplace who raise health and safety complaints,” Van Kampen said in a statement.

What the Ruling Means for Workers

The ruling closed legal gaps that let companies fire workers who raise health and safety complaints, he said. The decision closed the gaps at an important time, he said, “with so many workers raising COVID-related health and safety concerns.”

Driskell sued Summit after he said his boss attacked him in 2015 after Summit was hired to repair floor trusses at Circle University City apartments, a student housing community across from UNC Charlotte’s main entrance, The Charlotte Observer previously reported..

According to his lawsuit, Driskell said his superintendent was drunk on the job and made his work setting unsafe. Yet Summit fired him, Driskell said, after his superintendent beat him up in a hotel parking lot, causing him to be hospitalized.

In 2018, a federal jury in Charlotte awarded him $69,000 in compensatory damages for lost wages and medical bills, and $681,000 in punitive damages against Summit.

Summit disagreed with the verdict and vowed to appeal, a Summit official said in a statement at the time. “While Summit continues its defense in Court, providing safe jobsites and positive work environments will remain its top priority in the city of Charlotte and elsewhere,” according to the statement.

Summit officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The company has been a major developer in Charlotte whose projects also included the $71 million renovation and new apartment construction at Atherton Mill in South End.

Van Kampen said the Appeals Court ruling also ensures that workers hurt on the job “are protected from termination even if they don’t threaten to file a work comp claim, or if they ultimately do not file a claim.”