According to reporting from The National Law Review, a Louisiana court has overturned a lower court’s decision to dismiss Jones Act mental injury claim. The complaint was from an African American worker who alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress and race-based discrimination after a maritime employer failed to take action to remove a noose. In this article, our Texas Jones Act lawyer provides an overview of the court’s decision and explains the implications for employees.
Case Analysis: Robert E. Thompson V. Cenac Towing Co., L.L.C.
Background and Facts
The plaintiff in this case, an African-American worker, worked a 28-day stint aboard a vessel operated by the employer (Cenac Towing Co.) in 2008. While offshore, he expressed concerns about a noose-like rope in the vessel’s wheelhouse. He informed the captain of the matter and told him that he would report him. The next day, the captain of the vessel had the African-American worker transferred to another vessel. In 2009, the employee filed a complaint under the Jones Act alleging both intentional infliction of emotional distress and race-based discrimination/harassment. Among other things, the man alleged that co-workers put up the noose to intimidate and harass him.
The Lower Court’s Decision
The case has had a long and complicated procedural history. In 2018, the employer moved for summary judgment. Essentially, it asked a court to dismiss the case on the grounds that, as a matter of law, the plaintiff (Mr. Thompson) did not allege facts that constitute a violation of the Jones Act. The lower agreed with the employer, granting summary judgment and dismissing the claim without a full hearing.
Reversal on Appeal
On appeal, the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit has reserved the lower court’s decision. The appeals court acknowledged that it is undisputed that Mr. Thompson suffered no physical injuries while aboard the employer’s vessel. Nonetheless, the court found that Mr. Thompson’s assertion of “emotional distress” could still qualify for damages under the Jones Act. As such, dismissing the case without a full credibility determination was inappropriate.
A Takeaway for Maritime Workers
This is an instructive Jones Act ruling for both maritime workers and maritime employees. The Louisiana Court of Appeal found that an purely mental/emotional injury based on a single incident could be enough to support a claim under the Jones Act. While the court did not necessarily rule in favor of the employee on the merits of the case, it found that he raised sufficient allegations to justify a full hearing on the matter.
Call Our Texas Jones Act Attorney for Immediate Help
At the Kolodny Law Firm, our Texas Jones Act lawyers fight aggressively to protect the rights and interests of workers and their families. If you or your loved one suffered a mental injury while working for a maritime employer, we can help. Contact us today for a free, no obligation case review. With a legal office in Houston, we handle Jones Act claims throughout the Gulf Coast region.