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Appeal filed in suit against Poet

LOOMIS -- An area man who says he was unfairly fired from his job at the Poet ethanol plant in Loomis after he was injured at work is appealing a judge's decision to throw out his claim.

On Monday, Brice Cody, of rural Letcher, and his attorney Stephanie Pochop, of Gregory, filed a notice of appeal in response to a decision in favor of Poet issued last month by U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier.

Cody, 44, sued Poet in August 2011, more than two years after he was fired from a job at the company's plant in Loomis, which is located about 10 miles north of Mitchell. Following a workplace injury, Cody claims Poet treated him differently than other employees, failed to accommodate him when he returned work, and then fired him in retaliation for a request to have his accommodations reinstated after they were disregarded by a supervisor.

In his lawsuit, Cody asked for $300,000 for losses he claims to have suffered, including lost wages and benefits, plus additional damages.

On June 11, 2007, Cody hit his head on a metal beam of a storage rack while working at the plant, according to Schreier's decision.

In a transcript of a May 15, 2012, deposition, Cody describes his injury.

"I hit it so hard that I dropped to the floor," he said. "It dented my hard hat and my neck went straight back."

As a result of his neck injuries, Cody's doctor recommended that he not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds, not do any over-the-shoulder work and do minimal twisting of his neck and back, the decision says.

Cody asked Poet to allow him to do work within his doctor's restrictions, the decision says, and there is no dispute that Poet accommodated Cody from June 2007 to August 2008.

Cody, who had recently been promoted, took a three month leave of absence to have surgery to fix problems with his neck stemming from his workplace injury, the decision says. He returned to work in March 2008.

Meanwhile, the decision says, Poet management talked with Cody multiple times about his waning job performance from September 2007 to August 2008. According to the decision, Cody was suspended and demoted in September 2008 because he had shown "unacceptable performance and behavior in regards to showing disrespect to fellow employees and plant operations."

In January 2009, Poet fired Cody "because of Brice's history of concerns and lack of sustained improvement," and because a Dec. 25, 2008, incident when Cody made changes to the plant's machines that caused problems, the decision says.

In his lawsuit, Cody claims management constantly asked him when he would be taken off his doctor's restrictions when he returned from surgery. He alleges a comment from a supervisor that he needed to "carry his own weight" is evidence of discrimination, and that a supervisor was uncomfortable with co-workers complaining to management about his accommodations, the decision says.

Cody also claims members of Poet's human resources department removed disability-related information from his performance evaluations and other documents prior to this litigation, the decision says.

Cody presented at least two situations in which his need for accommodations were not met, the decision says. In one instance, Cody claims he helped lift a 200-pound valve in an emergency situation, and in another instance, a supervisor required him to life an object heavier than his lifting restrictions.

Schreier found neither of those claims were sufficient evidence of Poet's alleged discrimination in the company's decision to fire Cody.

"The evidence suggests Poet attempted to work with Cody as to his neck injury and the related work restrictions," the decision says.