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Court Refuses to Kill Lawsuit Against Railroad by Employee

March 24, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to kill a lawsuit against the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad by an employee in California who says the company condoned his harassment by fellow workers.

The court unanimously ruled that a federal law providing arbitration for minor labor disputes in the railroad industry does not bar personal injury lawsuits under another law, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

The railroad had sought to have the justices throw out the suit filed against it by Jim Buell, a carman at its stockyard in Stockton, Calif. The railroad argued that Buell is required by the federal Railway Labor Act (RLA) to submit his grievance to arbitration.

Buell’s suit alleges that he suffered an emotional breakdown as the result of harassment by his supervisor and other railroad employees.

Buell was hospitalized for 17 days and missed a year’s work in 1981 and 1982 after his breakdown. He charged that his problem was caused by harassment, threats and intimidation at work. The lawsuit did not detail what forms of harassment occurred and did not attempt to explain why Buell was harassed.

Buell’s union, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, threatened to file a grievance against the railroad in 1981 but did not take such action. Buell sued the following year under the FELA, which says railroads may be forced to compensate their employees for injuries caused by the employer’s negligence.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1985 ruled that Buell could pursue his suit under the FELA, and that purely emotional injury must be compensated under that law.

Writing for the high court today, Justice John Paul Stevens sent Buell’s case back to lower federal courts for further proceedings.

″Without agreeing or disagreeing with the merits of the court of appeals’ discussion of the emotional injury issue, we affirm its judgment only to the extent that it rejects the RLA preclusion argument advanced by the railroad,″ Stevens said.

The case is AT&SF Railroad Co. vs. Buell, 85-1140.