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Negligence lawsuit not protected activity: Judge


A worker fired after he received a $1.5 million jury award in a negligence lawsuit he filed against his employer cannot pursue a wrongful termination case against the company, a district judge held Wednesday.

In Cleveland v. Long Island Railroad Co., a judge for the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York granted summary judgment to a railroad company, holding that the injured worker’s lawsuit did not constitute protected activity. 

Joshua Cleveland worked for the Long Island Railroad Co. as an electrician. In 2014, a light tower boom swung down, severing his right ring finger, and he received disabled accident pay. In 2015, he filed a lawsuit against the railroad company alleging negligence under the Federal Employers Liability Act, and a jury awarded him $1.5 million in earnings, pain and suffering, among other damages. Soon after, he was terminated, and the termination letter stated that the reason for his termination was the jury verdict rendered in his favor.

Mr. Cleveland filed a complaint against the railroad alleging violations of the anti-retaliation provision of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, but the district court judge held that he failed to show that his lawsuit constituted protected activity necessary to proceed with an FRSA lawsuit.

Although Mr. Cleveland argued that his FELA lawsuit constituted an “investigation” into a violation of federal law, the judge held that the argument lacked merit and was inconsistent with the plain language of the statute. The judge also dismissed his argument that filing the FELA lawsuit was protected activity because it was not related to the enforcement of the FRSA, but rather whether an injury was caused by negligence — not a violation of safety standards in the FRSA.

The judge noted that Mr. Cleveland presented no evidence that the railroad company violated a safety standard and that the violation caused his injury as opposed to arguing generally that the company was negligent. Although Mr. Cleveland also argued that being terminated in retaliation for filing a FELA action “unfairly forces employees to choose between recovering compensation for their injuries and keeping their jobs,” the judge said that “for better or for worse” Congress chose not to include FELA lawsuits in the ant-retaliation protections listed for FRSA, and dismissed his complaint.



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