Frost v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 17-35513 (9th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment for BNSF in an action brought by a former employee under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The district court instructed the jury that BNSF could not be liable if it terminated the employee due to an "honest belief" that he violated the company's safety rules.
The panel held that the "honest belief" jury instruction was inconsistent with the FRSA's clear statutory mandate and the panel's prior caselaw. The panel held that, although the FRSA's prohibition on discriminating against an employee ultimately requires a showing of the employer's discriminatory or retaliatory intent, FRSA plaintiffs satisfied that burden by proving that their protected activity was a contributing factor to the adverse employment decision. Therefore, there was no requirement, at either the prima facie stage or the substantive stage, that a plaintiff make any additional showing of discriminatory intent.