By Hon. Deneise Turner Lott
One of the pleasures of my work as a judge is learning what other people do for a living. I once had a case in which the claimant’s job was to walk through a cavernous hubcap factory with a wheelbarrow, pick up reject hubcaps off the floor, and toss them into the wheelbarrow. After dumping the first wheelbarrow into the recycling bin, he continued his trek through the factory – picking up reject hubcaps, tossing them into the wheelbarrow, emptying the wheelbarrow, and setting off again. He did this over and over again for eight hours. On the graveyard shift. Alone. No one else worked the night shift.
Although the claimant’s job was an important part of the manufacturing process, I have often thought about the tedium of his job and why he chose to perform it? Is the answer merely one of economic supply and demand? Was he writing the great American novel during the day and using nights to process what he had written, make mental edits, and develop the plot? Or were his labors a kind of penance for a prior transgression, real or imagined? A form of meditation? Each crumpled hubcap, a bead on the rosary.
The last eighteen months have also caused us to cast an existential gaze on the world of work. To re-examine how we conceptualize, value, and compensate work. To ask whether essential workers’ social value aligns with their economic value. Work is, importantly, a paycheck. But it also connects us to people and fosters a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It is a big part of how we add value to society and achieve a sense of satisfaction, pride, or even artistry in the world. It is community, and, for some, an extended family.
How we acknowledge – and whether we promote – the extrinsic and intrinsic value of work as judges and as workers’ compensation professionals matters. It matters whether we use our hard and soft power to encourage employees to return to work. It matters whether employers make transitional work available for employees who want to return to work but are still recovering from an injury. It matters whether vocational experts are used to facilitate a return to work or just to prosecute or defend a claim; whether employees make good faith efforts to return to work; and, whether offers of settlement are conditioned on voluntary resignations.
One of the primary purposes of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Act is injured workers’ “restoration to health and vocational opportunity.” Miss. Code Ann. Section 71-3-1. I often recite this passage as part of the rationale for my ruling in an order. Like using rosary beads to count prayers, the recitation serves as a reminder to the parties and to myself to focus on what matters.
August marks my last month as president of NAWCJ. As I hand the gavel to your new President, Judge Shannon Bruno Bishop of Louisiana, I want to express my appreciation to her, the leadership of NAWCJ, past and present, and its membership, for the opportunity to serve as an officer for the past three years. It has been inspiring and humbling to work with the talent represented by this Board of Directors. I will count my tenure as an officer as one of the most meaningful experiences of my career. Thank you.
Thank you, too, to two former presidents of NAWCJ, Judge Jim Szablewicz of Virginia and Judge Bruce Moore of Kansas, and to the Chairperson of the Membership Committee, Commissioner Frank McKay of Georgia, for their diligent service as officers and Directors. After several years’ duty, they are rotating off the Board this month. Gentlemen, we appreciate your leadership and look forward to your continued contributions to NAWCJ’s mission of providing the best in judicial education to workers’ compensation adjudicators.
As noted above, NAWCJ remains in very capable hands. Members have or will soon receive a ballot of judges who were proposed by the Nominating Committee to serve on our Board or as officers. All have already distinguished themselves as jurists and are ready to take the helm. I commend them to you, and I appreciate you casting your vote.
Also please remember to nominate a judge to NAWCJ’s Adjudicator Hall of Fame before August 31st. It is important to acknowledge those who represent the best of us, both to honor them and to lift them up as an example to others.
And don’t forget to register for the Judiciary College in Orlando: December 13-15, 2021. See NAWCJ’s website for conference and hotel details. See you all soon at the World Center Marriott!