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Worker’s emotional distress suit against hospital system dismissed

Posted On: Nov. 6, 2019 11:45 AM CST


A federal judge in Louisiana on Monday dismissed a lawsuit against a Jefferson, Louisiana, hospital system filed by a worker who claimed emotional distress at the hands of his co-workers’ taunting, stating that the state’s workers compensation code bars such suits unless the distress is proven to be “intentional.”

The man had been hired in 2017 to provide housekeeping for the Oshner Health System, later performing job functions for cleaning company ABM Industries Inc., and claims that his co-workers and supervisors harassed him and made comments alluding to the man’s sexuality, according to documents in Civil Action No. 19-12314, filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.

On an occasion that spurred the lawsuit, the man was on a lunch break outside of one of Oshner’s hospital buildings when he sent a text message, recorded over voice using his mobile phone, to a co-worker: "I just want to die, in the parking garage, about to walk inside, just looking down." In response, a hospital supervisor — believing the man to be suicidal — sent him to the emergency room and attempted to have him committed, according to documents.

The man, in his defense, claimed his phone misunderstood what he had spoken into the receiver: "I'm looking at the sky in the parking garage, about to walk inside, just looking around,” according to documents.

Following an ordeal in which the man was deemed “non-committable” by a city coroner, and returned to work amid rumors of him being suicidal, he filed a lawsuit against his employer, claiming false imprisonment, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other discrimination claims that he argued violated both state and federal laws.

The hospital system and the cleaning company filed a motion to dismiss the claims of false imprisonment and emotional distress. The judge granted the motion, stating that it is “undisputed” that the man had send the suicidal text, whether “inadvertently or not” and that the emotional distress claims in the workplace are barred by the state’s exclusive remedy under workers compensation code — which in Louisiana allows for tort claims if the emotional distress is “intentional,” which the judge ruled did not apply.

“The majority of harassment Plaintiff suffered epitomizes the mere insults and petty oppressions courts consistently find do not constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress,” the judge wrote.