Judge: UP has no right to communicate with injured employee

David Yates Mar. 2, 2010, 5:38am

Union Pacific Railroad has no right to contact an employee to ascertain when he might be able to return to work, Judge Bob Wortham ruled Monday, March 1.

The decision stems from a personal injury suit filed in July by Travis Jones, a Louisiana man who alleged he was injured while on the job for Union Pacific.

Since the filing, Union Pacific "has engaged in extensive ex parte communication" with Jones regarding his medical condition and time frame for returning to work, court papers say.

However, according to Jones' motion for a protective order, "this communication is unauthorized intimidation and harassment and (is) nothing more than a (Union Pacific) attempt to build a bogus defense to use in front of the jury."

The motion, filed Jan. 27, continues by alleging that Union Pacific is using its "purported 'health department' and 'vocational rehabilitation' program as an excuse to have ex parte communication" with Jones.

However Union Pacific argues it is not an ex parte contact because Jones remains an employee, and that the company was simply trying to enroll him in free return-to-work assistance programs.

"As a Union Pacific employee who is absent from work, Jones is afforded the opportunity to receive assistance through (the company's) rehabilitation program ... at no charge, to assist him with his return to productive employment," the railroad stated in its response.

"As indicated in his motion, Jones apparently has chosen not to accept this assistance."

The response goes on to assert that Jones' claim is not "typical" since most employees who receive workers' compensation are barred from suing their employers. Court documents show that although Jones received worker's compensation for his alleged injury, he was still able to sue under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

A hearing on the matter was held March 1 in Judge Wortham's 58th District Court, where he gave a verbal order granting Jones' protective motion.

In his original complaint, Jones said he was working as a conductor for the railroad on May 2 when he sustained serious bodily injuries, although the suit does not specify how the injuries occurred.

Jones faults Union Pacific for allegedly failing to adequately inspect and replace a defective railcar and for allowing a bad-ordered car to remain in service.

Jones is seeking damages for his alleged lost wages, physical pain, physical impairment and mental anguish and medical costs.

Steve Young of Tavormina and Young in Houston is representing Jones.

Union Pacific is represented in part by attorney Doris Beutel-Guthrie of Houston.

Case No. A184-452

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