Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co., No. 18-3174 (2d Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, a carman for Metro-North, filed suit under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, alleging unlawful retaliation for his refusal to walk outdoors to another building in the railyard in allegedly unsafe winter conditions or, in the alternative, for his reporting those unsafe conditions to a foreman.
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Metro-North's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court did not commit reversible error. The court adopted the "reasonableness" definition in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act context, which means that a "reasonable belief contains both subjective and objective components," and applied it in the FRSA context. The court agreed with Metro-North and the district court that plaintiff has not identified a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the walkways were safe or over the reasonableness of his own assessment. In this case, plaintiff did not submit any specific evidence to support his generalized contention that the walkways at the railyard were unsafe, other than to assert that other employees slipped as they walked. The court concluded that plaintiff's subjective assessment alone cannot create a genuine issue of material fact.
The court agreed with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits and held that some evidence of retaliatory intent is a necessary component of an FRSA claim. The court considered the Eighth Circuit's Gunderson factors and concluded that plaintiff's protected activity was not a contributing factor in his discharge. Finally, the court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit.