Fired seaman says stress from termination, retaliation caused health problems

David Yates Jan. 2, 2008, 1:50pm

After seaman Tom Arriola was fired, he developed ulcers and diabetes, conditions he claims were the result of the stress of his wrongful termination for standing up for his union rights.

Arriola alleges his life-expectancy has been shortened as a result of his termination. Under the Jones Act, he has filed suit against Interocean American Shipping Corp. and Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc.

Arriola's suit was filed in the Jefferson County District Court on Dec. 31.

According to the plaintiff's petition, when Arriola's ship returned to Beaumont on Dec. 9, 2006, he was fired from employment by the ship's captain, who was acting on behalf of Interocean and Totem. Before he was fired, Arriola had already signed on for a second hitch for an additional 60-day time period.

"Plaintiff was fired without notice, without warning, without explanation, and in a public manner," the suit said.

"Plaintiff believes that such a discharge was retaliatory, because Plaintiff had earlier recommended, in his position as senior union representative for the crewmembers, that the crewmembers receive wages under the penalty overtime provision of the union contract which (went) in effect (when) Defendants (refused to allow) Plaintiff and other crewmembers to visit the commissary in Kuwait."

Arriola alleged that he and his shipmates were not allowed to visit any stores in Kuwait. Under their union contract, Arriola said the seaman were to receive overtime pay as compensation for having to stay on the ship. When Arriola asked for this pay, he was fired, the suit said.

"Plaintiff would show that as a result of such retaliatory discharge and termination of employment, suddenly and without warning, and the public humiliation of same, Plaintiff developed extensive stress, which lead to a diagnosis shortly thereafter of ulcerative colitis, and in turn to nerve damage, pancreas damage, diabetes, damage to his circulatory system and other internal injuries," the suit said.

Arriola claims he will require treatment for the remainder of his life, and that the incident may have reduced his life expectancy, the suit said.

"Plaintiff also would show that as a result of such conditions, he was hospitalized, for a period of at least two weeks… during which time he experienced muscle wasting and nearly died," the suit said.

"Plaintiff would show that his colitis, nerve damage and other internal injuries are the direct and proximate result of the stress he sustained as a result of the retaliatory discharge and firing described above, and for which Plaintiff seeks all recoverable damages."

In his suit, Arriola continues by saying that his discharge was improper, and that as a result of a meeting between the ship's captain and a representative of the Seaman's Union, it was determined and agreed that his termination was inappropriate.

Arriola's termination was withdrawn and he was re-hired.

"However, because that withdrawal of termination by Defendants did not occur until sometime later, Plaintiff also lost the opportunity to work on the ship for the 60 days which immediately followed his firing, and but for which he would have worked," the suit said. "Plaintiff therefore has lost wages as a result of that wrongful termination and retaliatory discharge."

Arriola is suing for all back wages and the overtime pay he never received.

In his suit, Arriola goes on to list another injury that occurred on a separate voyage. On Sept. 13, 2007, Arriola was serving aboard the SS Westward Venture. While en route to Dubai, South Africa, he injured his arms, "as a result of his having to 'monkey climb' his way up chains used to secure deck cargo on the ship, in an effort to properly secure that deck cargo and keep it from moving about…"

Arriola asserts the defendants were negligent for having him perform work without providing him with proper training, proper tools, and proper equipment. He also claims the vessel was unseaworthy.

He is suing for lost wages, medical expenses, inability to perform household services, and attorneys' fees.

Arriola is represented by the Lanier Law Firm.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd Judicial District, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. E180-970

More News