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MASIELLO v. METRO-NORTH COMMUTER R.R.

October 11, 1990

CATHERINE MASIELLO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD, A SUBSIDIARY OF METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, AND CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tenney, District Judge.

OPINION

For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that: (1) plaintiff has stated a cause of action under the FELA, and (2) whether defendants were negligent is a question of fact to be decided by a jury.

BACKGROUND

Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and other papers submitted show that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party has the initial burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). However, where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial — as in this case — it must come forward and show that there is a genuine issue of material fact to be decided by the factfinder. Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. See Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990).*fn1 In deciding a summary judgment motion, all reasonable inferences and any ambiguities must be drawn in favor of the party opposing the motion. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962) (per curium). Accordingly, for purposes of deciding this motion, the court will accept plaintiff's factual allegations as true.

The record establishes that defendant Conrail employed plaintiff as an engineer sometime prior to January 1, 1979.*fn2 On January 1, 1983, Conrail merged with Metro-North. Since that time, plaintiff has continued working as an engineer for Metro-North. Plaintiff claims that from the time she qualified as an engineer, and up until the present, she has been persistently subjected to various forms of sexual harassment. Since February, 1987, plaintiff has filed three Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints for sexual harassment with Metro-North's Director of Affirmative Action alleging: (1) the existence of obscene graffiti in various railroad cars, (2) the making of sexually suggestive comments and noises over the railroad radio, (3) that she was sent home for being five minutes late to work, (4) that she was harassed for not wearing regulation boots on the job, (5) that she was harassed about time she took off work due to illness, and (6) that she was harassed by co-workers who told her she did not know how to operate machinery properly.*fn3 Plaintiff also claims to have been nonconsensually kissed, hugged, grabbed, and picked up off the ground by her co-workers. Deposition of Catherine Masiello, sworn to January 13, 1988, at 134-37, Exhibit 1 to Affidavit of Fredric M. Gold (hereinafter "Masiello Dep."). Although plaintiff allegedly made at least one oral complaint of these assaults, id. at 138, no allegations of physical abuse were included in any of her written complaints. As a result of the above mentioned sexual harrasment at work, plaintiff claims to suffer from a variety of emotional and physical injuries including anxiety, depression, and an ulcer.*fn4

DISCUSSION

1. The Scope of the FELA

The FELA provides that

  [e]very common carrier by railroad while engaging
  in [interstate] commerce . . . shall be liable in
  damages to any person suffering injury while he
  is employed by such carrier in such commerce . .
  . for such injury . . . resulting in whole or in
  part from the negligence of any of the officers,
  agents, or employees of such carrier. . . .

45 U.S.C. § 51 (1988). Defendants argue that plaintiff's claim of injuries resulting from sexual harassment is not covered under the Act. There are strong arguments in favor of defendants' position. Most notably, there is nothing in the legislative history of the FELA which indicates that Congress intended the statute to cover claims of sexual harassment. Since presumably women did not usually work as railroad engineers when the Act was passed in 1908, the proper inquiry becomes whether this is the type of injury Congress would have intended to be covered if it had considered it. In making this determination, one must look to the original purpose of the Act. The FELA was enacted in response to "the special needs of railroad workers who are daily exposed to risks inherent in railroad work and are helpless to provide adequately for their own safety." Sinkler v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 356 U.S. 326, 329, 78 S.Ct. 758, 761, 2 L.Ed.2d 799 (1958) (citing Tiller v. Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co., 318 U.S. 54, 63 S.Ct. 444, 87 L.Ed. 610 (1943)). The Act was designed to give railroad workers a federal remedy for injuries caused by the negligence of their employer or their co-workers, eliminate several traditional defenses, and facilitate recovery in those cases with merit. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Buell, 480 U.S. 557, 561, 107 S.Ct. 1410, 1413, 94 L.Ed.2d 563 (1987). Since there is nothing about plaintiff's claim which makes it unique to the dangers of working on the railroad, so the argument goes, it is neither fair nor logical to allow her to benefit from the FELA's relaxed proof requirements simply because she happens to be a railroad employee.*fn5 In short, the argument is that the FELA should cover injuries sustained not while a plaintiff is employed by a railroad but because she is employed by a railroad.*fn6 Although the court finds such argument to be reasonable, a thorough review of precedent indicates otherwise.

The FELA is a broad remedial statute and should be interpreted liberally in order to fulfill Congress' intent. See Buell, 480 U.S. at 561-62, 107 S.Ct. at 1413-14; Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 180-82, 69 S.Ct. 1018, 1029-31, 93 L.Ed. 1282 (1949); Jamison v. Encarnacion, 281 U.S. 635, 640, 50 S.Ct. 440, 442, 74 L.Ed. 1082 (1930). While the statute is to be given a broad interpretation, the intent of Congress is still the controlling factor in deciding what is covered under the statute and what is not. However, in discerning Congress' intent, the Supreme Court has focused on the broad language of the statute itself. Thus, in deciding that silicosis — a pulmonary disease — was a cognizable injury under the FELA, the Supreme Court noted:

    We recognize of course that, when the statute
  was enacted, Congress' attention was focused
  primarily upon injuries and death resulting from
  accidents on interstate railroads. Obviously
  these were the major causes of injury and death
  resulting from railroad operations. But
  accidental injuries were not the only ones likely
  to occur. And nothing in either the language or
  the legislative history discloses expressly any
  intent to exclude from the Act's coverage any
  injury resulting

  "in whole or in part from the negligence" of the
  carrier. If such an intent can be found, it must be
  read into the Act by sheer inference.

Urie, 337 U.S. at 181, 69 S.Ct. at 1030 (citation omitted) (emphasis added). After noting that the language of the FELA is "as broad as could be framed," and that every injury suffered by an employee because of the railroad's ...


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