Summary Judgment on FELA Claim and No Damages for Discrimination

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa granted the railroad summary judgment on the plaintiff’s Federal Employers’ Liability Act claim. He had claimed a shoulder and back injury after operating a switch near Ottumwa, Iowa. The railroad denied the switch was defective and moved to dismiss the claim as not reasonably foreseeable. In granting summary judgment for the railroad, the Court noted that neither the railroad nor plaintiff found any issues with the switch before he operated it. The evidence showed the railroad properly conducted regular inspections of the switch without any finding of defects. The plaintiff operated the switch as second time after he claimed he was injured, and while he mentioned the switch needed some oil, he did not report the switch as defective or ask that it be taken out of service.

The plaintiff’s remaining discrimination claim under the Federal Railroad Safety Act went to jury trial. The plaintiff argued that his termination for violating the railroad’s rules was discrimination for reporting his alleged injury from operating the switch. The railroad presented evidence that plaintiff was terminated based upon his conduct after reporting the alleged injury and when he was confronted with a serious rules violation. The plaintiff was afforded an investigation hearing according to his union’s collective bargaining agreement with the railroad. An independent decisionmaker at the railroad reviewed the investigation transcript and made the decision to dismiss plaintiff based on the railroad’s discipline policy. The decision was reviewed by the railroad’s labor relations department to ensure consistent application of the discipline policy. After three days of trial, the jury found plaintiff has suffered no emotional distress and awarded plaintiff no damages.

Lahart v. BNSF Railway Company, Case No. 4:15-CV-464, 2017 WL 4021132 (S.D. Iowa May 30, 2017) (appeal pending).