Armstrong v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 17-1088 (7th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Armstrong, a BNSF train conductor, was not wearing the proper uniform for the third time in two weeks. Armstrong’s supervisor, Motley, noticed and called him into the “Glasshouse” office. Nelson left the Glasshouse as Armstrong arrived. Armstrong claims that Motley began yelling and that he tried to leave because he felt threatened; Motley pushed the door shut, striking Armstrong’s knee and foot. This is not seen on a video recording. Nelson testified that, outside the Glasshouse, he could hear Armstrong curse at Motley. The video showed Motley standing away from the door as Armstrong exited. Motley, who claims he did not close the door on Armstrong, called his supervisor, Johanson. After speaking to Armstrong, Johanson took Armstrong to an on-site clinic, where he was provided a soft walking shoe. Human Resources took statements and secured the video. BNSF issued a notice of investigation for insubordination, dishonesty, and misrepresentation. A hearing officer concluded that Armstrong had lied. BNSF terminated Armstrong’s employment. Armstrong sued, alleging that BNSF dismissed him for reporting a work‐related injury, (Federal Rail Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4)). The Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict for BNSF, upholding a jury instruction that “Defendant cannot be held liable under the FRSA if you conclude that Defendant terminated Plainiff’s employment based on its honestly held belief that Plaintiff did not engage in protected activity under the FRSA in good faith.” While a FRSA plaintiff need not show that retaliation was the sole motivating factor in the adverse decision, the statute requires a showing that retaliation was a motivating factor.