FEBRUARY 22, 2011 by Bill Abbott
Most employment arrangements throughout the United States are classified as “at-will” positions. The term “at-will” essentially means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship without consequence for any lawful reason. In most cases, neither the employee nor the employer, are even required to state a reason for ending an employment relationship. There are, however, several employment termination scenarios that may give rise to a cause of action for offshore lawsuits.
Maritime employees have filed successful offshore lawsuits in situations where their employment was terminated as a retaliatory punishment after the maritime worker filed a personal injury claim against the employer. In the case of Smith v. Atlas Off-shore Boat Service, Inc., 653 F.2d 1057 (1981), Smith, a seaman employed by the defendant, Atlas, suffered an ankle injury while working aboard the defendant’s ship. Smith took a leave of absence from his job to seek medical attention. During his leave, Smith also filed a Jones Act claim against his employer. At the end of his leave of absence period, Smith’s employer informed him that, unless he abandoned his personal injury claim, he would not be permitted to return to work. Smith was terminated when he refused to drop the claim.
The court in this case held that “seamen who have their at-will employment positions terminated because they filed offshore lawsuits against their employers under the Jones Act have an action in admiralty for wrongful discharge.” The court further reasoned that, “an employer should not be permitted to use his absolute discharge right to retaliate against seamen for seeking to recover what is due to them or to intimidate seamen from seeking legal redress by filing offshore lawsuits.” If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated from your maritime job, you should contact an experienced maritime lawyer who can assess your case and advise you of your rights under the law.