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Whether an injury occurred due to reasons personal to an employee depends on whether her injury arose out of and in the course of her employment. An injury arises "in the course of" employment when it occurs within the period of the employment, at a place where the employee may be in performance of her duties, and while she is fulfilling or doing something incidental to those duties. An injury arises "out of" the employment when a reasonable person, after considering the circumstances of the employment, would perceive a causal connection between the conditions under which the employee must work and the resulting injury.
In 1987, Jim Hennly, the vice president of First Federal Savings and Loan Association (First Federal) and a pipe smoker, began working in an office close to the desk of Bonnie Richardson, a receptionist/switchboard operator at First Federal. Richardson has severe reactions to pipe smoke, and while the frequency and intensity of her exposure to Hennly's pipe smoke are disputed, it is undeniable that at the time of her termination by First Federal Richardson was experiencing physical illness because of the smoke. Subsequently, Richardson filed suit against First Federal, challenging her termination under the GEEHC; in addition, she sued First Federal and Hennly for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sued Hennly for interference with contractual relations. Hennly's motion for summary judgment was granted with respect to the claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and denied with respect to the claim of interference with contractual relations. First Federal's motion for summary judgment was denied. The Court of Appeals consolidated the two cases on appeal and held that Richardson's claims were not barred under the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act), that Hennly was not entitled to summary judgment on the claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and that Richardson met the definition of "handicapped individual" under the Georgia Equal Employment for the Handicapped Code (GEEHC).
Were Richardson's claims barred under the Act?
The court reversed the judgment that Richardson's claims were not barred under the Act. The court found that because Richardson’s injuries occurred during the regular workday and were the result of the conditions under which she worked, they occurred during the course of employment. Thus, Richardson’s exclusive remedies for her claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress were under the Act. The court also reversed the denial of summary judgment for the employer on the employee's claim that the employer violated the GEEHC. The court found that the employee did not meet the definition of handicapped under the GEEHC. There was no evidence that the employee's sensitivity to pipe smoke would create a likelihood that she would have difficulty securing, retaining, or advancing in employment with employers other than her former employer.