Bloom Law client Brian Kniffen in the news

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Bloom Law client Brian Kniffen in the news

Reprinted from the The Wenatchee World (Nov 28, 2023)
By Oscar Rodriguez

WATERVILLE — A former employee of the East Wenatchee Water District is suing his employer who he says fired him after nearly 30 years to avoid paying more in insurance premiums for injuries he sustained on the job.

Brian Kniffen has alleged in Douglas County Superior Court that the water district unfairly fired him after an injury in April 2021 and did not work with him to accommodate his injury.

This was not Kniffen’s first injury over the nearly three decades he worked at the water district. Kniffen filed injury claims while working as a utility field inspector in 2019 and 2020, according to the lawsuit. For example, in June 2021, Kniffen injured his back while twisting a large water valve on a job site.

According to Kniffen’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday, “senior leadership” were worried that Kniffen’s injuries could “jeopardize the district’s bottom-line” in the form of their insurance.

“The payouts for injury and illness claims had surpassed the amount the district contributed through insurance premiums, suggesting that the employer was experiencing a high rate of workplace incidents or that the incidents that did occur were particularly severe or costly,” according to the lawsuit.

Kniffen alleged in the lawsuit that in April 2021 his back injury worsened along with a new injury and requested, per his medical provider, two accommodations: not to manually open valves and not lift more than 50 pounds.

The district accommodated Kniffen’s requests for about seven months, according to the lawsuit.

In June 2021, the district received a written warning from the Washington Association of Water & Sewer Districts insurance risk pool, which was considering ejecting the district because of Kniffen’s history of injury claims. Another email a few months later was sent to the district said that based on Kniffen’s claim history the district’s premium costs would go up for the next three years, according to the lawsuit.

The district fired Kniffen in November 2021, falsely claim(ing) there was available permanent reasonable accommodation to allow him to continue working, the lawsuit said.

It was Kniffen’s right an an employee with a back injury, which could also be defined as a “disability,” to have an “interactive process” in finding an accommodation for his employment.

He claimed in the lawsuit that instead of working with him to find an accomodation, the district “secretly focused on forcing him out while pretending to accommodate him” hoping to minimize the chances of a lawsuit.

Kniffen is looking to recover in court lost wages and other benefits of employment as well as damages for emotional harm and attorney fees.

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