In 1987, Gatha Blankenship began working for American Ordnance Systems LLS in Milan, Tenn., where she assembled bullets. In February 2002,Blankenship was temporarily laid off due to a decrease in business. While she was on layoff status, American Ordnance posted a notice at the plant stating that medical evaluations for upper-body strength would be performed on employees applying for new jobs that had specific lifting requirements. Applicants had to pass a strength test, which entailed the repetitive lifting of 25 pounds and the occasional lifting of 70 pounds.
On March 7, 2002, after hearing about the notice, Blankenship took a strength test that involved lifting weights from various heights and positions. She was receiving unemployment benefits at the time and did not pass the test.
After completing the strength test, Blankenship experienced weakness in her back. Over the next several days, the pain worsened and radiated down her leg. In May 2002, she was diagnosed with a bulging disc, and filed a workers'-compensation claim with American Ordnance, which denied it. Blankenship sued.
The trial court concluded Blankenship was not entitled to workers' comp because her injury did not arise out of her employment. She appealed the decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court arguing her injury should be covered by workers' comp because her employer paid for the strength test, conducted it on company premises, and the test was available only to employees, not the general public.
American Ordnance asserted her injury did not arise out of, or occur in the course of, her employment because her participation in the strength test was voluntary, and she was not paid to take the test. The job from which she was laid off did not have lifting requirements, and the lifting test was not a condition to her returning.
In siding with American Ordnance, the Tennessee high court concluded that Blankenship's back injury did not arise out of her employment because the strength test, which was voluntary, was "part of the application process for a job she did not have and may not have gotten even if she passed the test." According to the court, she was not entitled to workers' comp because her injury did not occur while performing a duty that she was employed for, or required to perform, or engaged in an incidental task.
|Blankenship v. American Ordnance Systems LLS, 164 S.W.2d 350 (Sup.Ct.Tenn. 2005), Supreme Court of Tennessee, May 12, 2005.|