Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

cerns,” id., at 212, and expressed the view that Congress intended that only the "Government should regulate the radiological safety aspects involved in the construction and operation of a nuclear plant,” id., at 205. English's action, however, does not fall within the boundaries of the preempted field as so defined, since the state tort law at issue is not motivated by safety concerns, see id., at 213, and since the claim's actual effect on the nuclear safety decisions made by those who build and run nuclear facilities is not sufficiently direct and substantial, cf. Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U. S. 238. It is thus not surprising that there is no evidence of the necessary “clear and manifest” intent by Congress to pre-empt such claims. Pp. 80-86.

(b) English's claim does not conflict with particular aspects of $ 210. First, neither the text nor the legislative history of $ 210(g) – which provides that “Subsection (a) of this section [the prohibition on employer retaliation) shall not apply" where an employee "deliberately causes a violation of any requirement of this Act or the Atomic Energy Act” — reflects a congressional desire to preclude all relief, including state remedies, to a whistle-blower who deliberately commits a safety violation. Even if that were Congress' intent, the federal interest would be served by pre-empting recovery by violators of safety standards. Here, the ALJ found that English did not deliberately commit a violation. Second, absent some specific suggestion in the text or legislative history, the failure of $ 210 to provide general authorization for the Secretary to award punitive damages for $ 210(a) violations does not imply a congressional intent to bar a state action, like English's, that permits such an award. Third, the expeditious timeframes provided for the processing of $ 210 claims do not reflect a congressional decision that, in order to encourage the reporting of safety violations and retaliatory behavior, no whistle-blower should be able to recover under any other law after the time for filing under $ 210 has expired. Since many retaliatory incidents are a response to safety complaints made to the Federal Government, the Government is already aware of these safety violations even if employees do not invoke $ 210's remedial provisions. Moreover, the suggestion that employees will forgo their $ 210 options and rely solely on state remedies is simply too speculative a basis on which to rest a pre

emption finding. Pp. 87-90. 871 F. 2d 22, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

M. Travis Payne argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Arthur M. Schiller.

[blocks in formation]

Christopher J. Wright argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Deputy Solicitor General Roberts, Allen H. Feldman, Steven J. Mandel, and Jeffrey A. Hennemuth.

Carter G. Phillips argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Rex E. Lee, Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr., Philip A. Lacovara, and Barton A. Smith. *

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the particular context of this case we must decide whether federal law pre-empts a state-law cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit is brought by an employee of a nuclear-fuels production facility against her employer and arises out of actions by the employer allegedly taken in retaliation for the employee's nuclear-safety complaints.

I Petitioner Vera M. English was employed from 1972 to 1984 as a laboratory technician at the nuclear-fuels production facility operated by respondent General Electric Company (GE) in Wilmington, N. C. In February 1984, petitioner complained to GE's management and to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about several perceived violations of nuclear-safety standards at the facility, including

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Attorney General of North Carolina et al. by Lacy H. Thornburg, Attorney General, pro se, John C. Brooks, pro se, Donnell Van Noppen III, and Michael G. Okun; for the National Conference of State Legislatures et al. by Benna Ruth Solomon; and for the Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association by J. Michael McGuinness and Paul Tobias.

Nicholas S. Reynolds and Richard K. Walker filed a brief for the Nuclear Management and Resources Council, Inc., as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the Government Accountability Project by Louis A. Clark; and for the National Whistleblower Center by Stephen M. Kohn and Michael D. Kohn.

[blocks in formation]

the failure of her co-workers to clean up radioactive material spills in the laboratory.

Frustrated by the company's failure to address her concerns, petitioner on one occasion deliberately failed to clean a work table contaminated with a uranium solution during a preceding shift. Instead, she outlined the contaminated areas with red tape so as to make them conspicuous. A few days later, petitioner called her supervisor's attention to the marked-off areas, which still had not been cleaned. As a result, work was halted while the laboratory was inspected and cleaned.

Shortly after this episode, GE charged petitioner with a knowing failure to clean up radioactive contamination and temporarily assigned her to other work. On April 30, 1984, GE's management informed petitioner that she would be laid off unless, within 90 days, she successfully bid for a position in an area of the facility where she would not be exposed to nuclear materials. On May 15, petitioner was notified of the company's final decision affirming the disciplinary action taken against her. Petitioner did not find another position by July 30, and her employment was terminated.

In August, petitioner filed a complaint with the Secretary of Labor charging GE with violating $ 210(a) of the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as added, 92 Stat. 2951, 42 U. S. C. $ 5851(a) (1982 ed.), which makes it unlawful for an employer in the nuclear industry to

“discharge any employee or otherwise discriminate against any employee with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because the employee ...

"(1) commenced, caused to be commenced, or is about to commence or cause to be commenced a proceeding under this Act or the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as

Although, technically, petitioner was placed on a layoff status on July 30, and retained certain benefits and recall rights at that point, as a practical matter she no longer was employed by GE after that date.

[blocks in formation]

amended, or a proceeding for the administration or enforcement of any requirement imposed under this Act or the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended;

"(2) testified or is about to testify in any such proceed

ing or;

“(3) assisted or participated or is about to assist or participate in any manner in such a proceeding ... or in any other action to carry out the purposes of this Act or the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended.”:

In her charge, petitioner alleged that GE's actions constituted unlawful employment discrimination in retaliation for her nuclear-safety complaints to GE's management and to the NRC. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to whom the matter was referred found that GE had violated $210(a) when it transferred and then discharged petitioner. The Secretary, however, dismissed the complaint as untimely because it had not been filed, as required by $ 210(b)(1), within 30 days after the May 15 notice of the company's final decision.

2 If an employee believes that he has been discharged or otherwise discriminated against in violation of the statute, he may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor within 30 days after the violation occurs. $ 210(b)(1). The Secretary then must investigate the alleged violation, hold a public hearing, and, within 90 days of receiving the complaint, issue an order that either provides or denies relief. $210(b)(2)(A). If a violation is found, the Secretary may order reinstatement with backpay, award compensatory damages, and require the violator to pay the employee's costs and attorney's fees. $210(b)(2)(B). Any person adversely affected by an order of the Secretary may obtain judicial review in the appropriate United States court of appeals, and either the Secretary or the complainant may seek enforcement of the Secretary's order in United States district court. $$ 210(c) through (e).

3 The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed that decision but remanded the case for consideration of petitioner's separate claim that she was subjected to a continuing course of retaliatory harassment after the May 15 disciplinary decision. English v. Whitfield, 858 F. 2d 957 (1988). Upon remand, the ALJ concluded that that claim,

[blocks in formation]

In March 1987, petitioner filed a diversity action against GE in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Petitioner in four counts raised two claims, one for wrongful discharge and one for intentional infliction of emotional distress. With respect to the latter, petitioner alleged that she was suffering from severe depression and emotional harm as a result of GE's "extreme and outrageous conduct.” App. 20. Petitioner alleged that, in addition to transferring and ultimately firing her, GE (1) had removed her from the laboratory position under guard “as if she were a criminal,” id., at 14; (2) had assigned her to degrading “make work” in her substitute assignment, ibid.; (3) had derided her as paranoid; (4) had barred her from working in controlled areas; (5) had placed her under constant surveillance during working hours; (6) had isolated her from coworkers, even during lunch periods; and (7) had conspired to charge her fraudulently with violations of safety and criminal laws. Id., at 14–17. Petitioner sought punitive as well as compensatory damages.

Although the District Court concluded that petitioner had stated a valid claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under North Carolina law, it nonetheless granted GE's motion to dismiss. 683 F. Supp. 1006, 1017–1018 (1988). The court did not accept GE's argument that petitioner's claim fell within the field of nuclear safety, a field that, according to GE, had been completely pre-empted by the Federal Government. The court held, however, that petitioner's claim was pre-empted because it conflicted with three particular aspects of $ 210: (1) a provision that bars recovery under the section to any employee who “deliberately causes a violation of any requirement of [the Energy Reorga

also, should be dismissed as time barred. The ALJ's recommended decision on this issue is still pending before the Secretary.

4 The District Court ruled that petitioner had not made out a claim under state law for wrongful discharge. Because petitioner has not appealed that ruling, the wrongful-discharge claim is not now before us.

« PředchozíPokračovat »