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Mera-Hernandez v. U.S.D. 233

Supreme Court of Kansas

March 24, 2017

Leticia Mera-Hernandez, Appellee,
v.
U.S.D. 233, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. For purposes of the Kansas Workers Compensation Act, K.S.A. 44-501, et seq., "workman, " "worker, " or "employee" means any person who has entered into the employment of or works under any contract of service or apprenticeship with an employer.

         2. The Workers Compensation Act is substantial, complete, and exclusive, covering every phase of the right to compensation under the Act and of the procedure for obtaining such compensation. Consequently, the determination of whether a person is a covered employee under the Workers Compensation Act is governed exclusively by the provisions of the Act, without resort to the common law.

         3. Under the most fundamental rule of statutory construction, the legislature's intent should govern where it can be ascertained. The expressed legislative intent with respect to the Workers Compensation Act is that the Act is to be liberally construed to further the purpose of bringing employers and employees within the Act's provisions.

         4. The definition of "employee" in the Workers Compensation Act should be liberally construed to bring workers within the provisions of the Act. Consequently, an employee under the Workers Compensation Act includes a person who has entered into the employment of an employer, or a person who works under any contract of service with an employer, or a person who works under an apprenticeship with an employer.

         5. A determination of whether an employment contract might be deemed void ab initio under the common law because it is an illegal contract or because it was obtained through fraudulent inducement is not part of the analysis of whether a person is covered by the Workers Compensation Act, when the person has entered into the employment of an employer.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed August 14, 2015.

         Appeal from the Kansas Workers Compensation Board. Judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

          Kip A. Kubin, of Bottaro, Kubin and Yocum, P.C., of Leawood, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant.

          C. Albert Herdoiza, of Kansas City, and Gary P. Kessler, of Kessler Law Office, Inc., of Kansas City, argued the cause and were on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          Johnson, J.

         Unified School District 233 (U.S.D. 233) petitions this court for review of the Court of Appeals' decision in Mera-Hernandez v. U.S.D. 233, No. 112, 760, 2015 WL 5009902 (Kan. App. 2015) (unpublished opinion), which affirmed an order from the Workers Compensation Board (Board) awarding benefits to Leticia Mera-Hernandez for a back injury she suffered while working for U.S.D. 233. Mera-Hernandez was not legally authorized to work in the United States when she was hired; she used a false name and identification documents to apply for the job. U.S.D. 233 claims that Mera-Hernandez' fraudulent conduct to induce her hiring renders her employment contract void ab initio, thus precluding any recovery under the Kansas Workers Compensation Act (Act). We disagree and affirm the Court of Appeals' affirmance of the Board's award.

         Factual and Procedural Overview

         The parties do not dispute the underlying facts. U.S.D. 233 hired Mera-Hernandez as a custodian in 2009. She had worked for the school district on two prior occasions, in 2000 and 2003, under her true name. But when applying for the job in 2009, Mera-Hernandez used a false name, Hilda Reina, and provided false identification documents. She would later admit that she had used a false name to obtain employment because she was not legally authorized to work in the United States, and the Board would ...


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