It allegedly started with one Rifle Tequila's restaurant worker throwing a beer bottle cap at another.
It ended with the first worker reportedly attacking the second while he was washing dishes, resulting in injuries for which the dishwasher was awarded medical and temporary total disability benefits.
Now, the Colorado Court of Appeals has upheld that award. A three-judge appeals court panel agreed in an opinion issued Thursday with an administrative law judge's findings that the injuries arose from horseplay that the restaurant tolerated in its workplace culture, and also arose from its practice of providing a free beer to employees after work. The appeals court found that the medical and disability awards should stand.
According to the opinion, the restaurant and its insurer, Truck Insurance Exchange, had asked for a review of the state Industrial Claim Appeals Office affirmation of the judge's order awarding benefits to Javier Pena Alvarez.
The ruling said the injuries occurred in an altercation April 29, 2017, between Alvarez and Jose Arellano, which they both testified "was precipitated by their previous interactions."
Alvarez contended Arellano had flung a beer bottle cap at him and repeatedly insulted him, and was intoxicated at the time. Arellano "denied engaging in this behavior," according to the ruling, but said Alvarez had punched him "in the genital area."
After hearing of those interactions, the restaurant's manager, Pedro Gomez, reportedly told the two to "behave."
According to the ruling's narrative of the incident, Arellano finished his shift later that evening and enjoyed a beer with his meal courtesy of Tequila's. Gomez had testified his practice was to let employees have a beer on the house after closing the restaurant for the evening.
At some point Arellano got up from his table and Alvarez hid the beer and wouldn't return it.
"This provoked Mr. Arellano, who found claimant washing dishes in the kitchen, grabbed him from behind, assaulted him, and choked him. Mr. Arellano admitted to attacking claimant (Alvarez) and was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. Claimant sustained facial trauma as a result of the altercation," the narrative says.
It says a physician restricted Alvarez from heavy lifting after the assault, and Alvarez "also described difficulty standing and bending over."
He returned to work for a few days, but then stopped working at Tequila's.
When he sought workers' compensation benefits, the restaurant challenged the request, saying his and Arellano's actions constituted "non-compensable horseplay."
According to the ruling, the restaurant had argued Alvarez's horseplay "so deviated from his job as to remove it from the course and scope of his employment," particularly when it came to striking Arellano in his genitals.
The administrative law judge found that the horseplay was within the course and scope of Alvarez's employment because it had become an accepted part of the work environment.
The appeals court found that factual findings cited by the judge support that conclusion. These included Gomez's practice of giving employees a beer at the end of the night, Alvarez's hiding of the beer and precipitating the assault, and the lack of "credible evidence" that the restaurant disciplined either of the two for their actions, the appeals court ruling said.
"Because substantial evidence in the record supports these factual findings, we, like the (Industrial Claim Appeals Office), may not set them aside," the appeals court ruled.