AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Employment & Labor Law for Public Safety Agencies


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Emotional Distress     

     Seventh Circuit reduces a jury verdict of $500,000 to $250,000, awarded to a black paramedic. The plaintiff was placed on probation with no change to his compensation and the nature of his emotional distress did not warrant a half-million dollar award. Thompson v. Mem'l Hosp. of Carbondale, #07-2249, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 22909 (7th Cir.).
    A public employee sued his superiors after an advertisement was published in the local newspaper that appeared to solicit applicants for his job. He was embarrassed and stressed by the newspaper ad and questions about it from people in town. In rejecting his claims, the Montana Supreme Court noted that his employment was not terminated, no one was hired to replace him, and he suffered no loss of wages. Jensen v. Absarokee W&S Dist., #DA 10-0039, 2010 MT 189N, 2010 Mont. Lexis 291 (Unpub.).
     California appellate court rejects a damages claim for emotional distress arising from allegedly retaliatory treatment of the plaintiff, a county firefighter. In California, injuries sustained and arising out of the course of employment are generally subject to workers’ compensation procedures, an exclusive remedy. “The exclusive remedy applies even when the damages result from intentional conduct by the employer that is a normal part of employment relationships, and even though such conduct may be described as egregious, harassment, manifestly unfair, or intended to cause emotional distress.”  Mueller v. County of L.A., #B201171, 2009 Cal. App. Lexis 1335 (2d Dist.), relying on Shoemaker v. Myers, 52 Cal.3d (1990) and Cole v. Fair Oaks Fire Prot. Dist., 43 Cal.3d 148 (1987).
     In a gender bias appeal by the employer, the jury was properly instructed that "a combination of seemingly minor incidents, once they reach a certain critical mass, may form the basis for a violation, even though each minor act, considered in isolation, would not otherwise rise to the level of an adverse employment action." Three women were awarded $500,000, $400,000 and $100,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress. Olsen v. County of Nassau, #CV 05-3623, 2009 U.S. Dist. Lexis 38938 (E.D.N.Y.).
     For procedural reasons, the Sixth Circuit dismisses an appeal brought by a Michigan city. Seven women state employees had been forced to disrobe and get hosed down by male city firefighters, because it was erroneously believed they had been exposed to anthrax powder. The jury awarded them $480,000, and the court awarded $53,000 in legal fees and costs. Allison v. City of East Lansing #5:03-CV-156, 2005 U.S. Dist. Lexis 38443 (W.D. Mich.); appeal dismissed, #06-1173, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 9568, 2007 Fed App. 0148P (6th Cir.).
     A Virginia public employee's migraine headaches, acid reflux pain, stomach cramps, diarrhea, skin rash and insomnia were a result of job stress, and not a physical injury. She could not sue for the negligent infliction of emotional distress without evidence of other physical injury caused by the alleged coworker harassment. King v. City of Chesapeake, #2:05cv617, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 21709 (E.D. Va.).
     A sheriff's failure to re-employ an officer after criminal charges against her were withdrawn is not so outrageous in character, or so extreme in degree as would support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Benard v. Washington Co., #06-527, 2006 U.S. Dist. Lexis 80188 (W.D. Pa.). {N/R}
     In a FELA action, a federal appeals court holds that although an employee may recover damages for emotional injury that results from a fear of physical injury to himself, he cannot recover for emotional distress that results from seeing another person's violent death. Lukowski v. CSX Transp., #04-4141, 416 F.3d 478, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 14520 (6th Cir. 2005). {N/R}
     Woman ex-firefighter loses a sexual harassment appeal against the city and a superior, but her claim for the intentional infliction of emotional distress survives. Coworker displayed a photo of a naked woman who resembled the plaintiff to 15 others, which caused her to suffer clinical depression. Hale v. City of Dayton, #18800, 2002 Ohio App. Lexis 474 (Ohio App. 2d Dist. 2002). [2002 FP Jun]
     Federal court refuses to dismiss a suit filed by jailers against the sheriff and others for, without warning, creating a realistic hostage-taking scenario. Humes v. Gilless, #01-2028, 154 F.Supp.2d 1353, 2001 U.S. Dist. Lexis 11233 (W.D. Tenn.). [2001 FP 166-8]
     Ohio appeals court rules that emotional injuries are part of other injuries, and arise out of the same claim. Harrison v. Franklin Co. Sheriff's Dep't, #00AP-240, 2000 Ohio App. Lexis 5754 (Unpub.). {N/R}
     Factual question existed as to whether a firefighter has a valid claim against the chief for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Garrison v. Bobbitt, #17571, 134 Ohio App.3d 373, 731 N.E.2d 216, 1999 Ohio App. Lexis 3083, 17 IER Cases (BNA) 629. {N/R}
     Federal appeals court upholds a damage claim for mental injury arising from the harsh treatment of a public employee at the time he was dismissed. He was forced to clean out his office, under a monitor's supervision, while his subordinates watched the event. Alston v. King, #99-3224, 231 F.3d 383, 2000 U.S. App. Lexis 27428 (7th Cir. 2000). [2001 FP 37-8]
     Appeals court affirms award for black officer who suffered emotional distress when Rodney King's lawyer said he was a "House Negro." Love v. Grimes, #B122863 (Unpub., Cal.App.2d Dist. 4/11/2000). [2000 FP 88]
     Eighth Circuit holds that a public employer had the right to require an employee, who was claiming emotional distress, to provide the employer with medical records releases. Schoffstall v. Henderson, #99-4192, 223 F.3d 818, 2000 U.S. App. Lexis 20936 (8th Cir. 2000). {N/R}
     Employers do not owe employees duty to use reasonable care to avoid inadvertent infliction of emotional distress when responding to workplace disputes, and employee has no claim based on her supervisor's rude and threatening behavior. Snyder v. Med. Service Corp., 98 Wn.App. 315, 988 P.2d 1023, 1999 Wash. App. Lexis 2032, 16 IER Cases (BNA) 1337 (Wash.App. 2000); appeal sought, 2000 Wash. Lexis 372.{N/R}
     Secretary could recover damages from her superior for mental anguish after he required her to fake a document. Worker's Comp. laws prevent a recovery against her employer, however. Brown v. Nutter, 45 Mass.App. 212, 1998 Mass. App. Lexis 517, 696 N.E.2d 953. [1998 FP 151-2]
     Executive-level official, who induced management to terminate a corrections employee did not give rise to a suit for emotional distress, because the action was not atrocious, indecent or despicable. Cavanough v. Doherty, 243 A.D.2d 92, 675 N.Y.S.2d 143 (1998). {N/R}
     A single slur uttered by the sheriff to a subordinate did not give rise to a suit for emotional distress; he had called a black officer a "jungle bunny," causing her to suffer severe stress. Taylor v. Metzger, 706 A.2d 685, 1998 N.J. Lexis 92, 76 FEP Cases (BNA) 58. [1998 FP 76-7]
     Federal court dismisses damage action against a town and a police lieutenant. Suit was brought by a WF officer who married a BM. The allegedly derogatory comments did not rise to the "extreme and outrageous" level necessary to assert a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Williams v. Perry, 960 F.Supp. 534 (D.Conn. 1996). {N/R}
     Federal court refuses to dismiss a damage suit brought by a high strung worker who suffered depression when her supervisor accused her of taking long lunch breaks, initiated arguments with her, and asked coworkers to watch her behavior. Green v. John Chatillon, 1997 U.S.Dist. Lexis 6211 (M.D.N.C.). [1997 FP 100-1]
     Sergeant sued union for conspiracy to violate his rights; appellate court affirms $195,000 for emotional injury and $350,000 in punitive damages. Hughes v. Patrolmen's Benev. Assn. of City of N.Y., 850 F.2d 876 (2nd Cir. 1988).
     Also see: Civil Liability, Defamation, Psychological Exams and Workmens’ Compensation, Wrongful Discharge.

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