United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary
judgment [ECF No. 36] filed by Defendant the National
Railroad Passenger Corporation d/b/a Amtrak.
David Rollins, a former employee of Amtrak, argues that he
was unlawfully terminated from his employment. Plaintiff was
employed with Amtrak for nearly 23 years, until August 4,
2015. (Second Amend Compl., ECF No. 25, ¶8). He was a
supervisor for at least 10 years and his last position was
the "night shift supervisor at the Adams Maintenance of
Way Base located in North Brunswick, NJ," (track
supervisor) (Id.; Rollins Depo. T. 29:21). In
that position, Plaintiff was responsible for overseeing
approximately twenty employees performing track maintenance.
(Rollins Depo. T. 44:14-25). The position required
coordination with the track maintenance team and supervisor
who worked on the day shift to ensure continuity of work.
March 2015, Josh Newbold, an assistant day supervisor, was
temporarily assigned to act as the day supervisor while the
usual supervisor was on vacation. The transition did not
proceed smoothly as there was tension between Plaintiff and
Newbold in coordinating the management of the railway.
(Second Amend. Comp., ¶ 10).
after the switch from the day to the night shift, Plaintiff
reported to his supervisor, John Semliatschenko, Assistant
Division Engineer, that there was a problem with Newbold due
to insufficient coordination, and that he was concerned about
the safety during his shift. Plaintiff requested that a
meeting be arranged to address his concerns. (Id.,
¶ 11). A meeting was arranged on March 12, 2015, between
Plaintiff, Newbold, and Semliatschenko, who was to function
as a mediator. (Id., ¶ 12). At the meeting, a
very vocal argument erupted between Plaintiff and Newbold.
Semliatschenko left the room for a few minutes, and upon his
return he terminated the meeting. (Id., ¶ 13).
While Semliatschenko was not present, Plaintiff allegedly
threatened Newbold. Newbold did not immediately report the
threat, because he concluded that Plaintiff was not serious
about hurting him. (Newbold Depo., Adams Cert. Ex. I, T.
April 23, 2015, Plaintiff placed a call to "Operation
RedBlock," - an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
helpline - to speak with a counselor or mental healthcare
professional. (Second Amend. Compl., ¶ 14; Rollins Depo.
T. 56:6-12). At the time, Plaintiff, was dealing with
work related stress, marital issues, and his son was
undergoing cancer treatment. (Rollins Depo. T. 60-61).
that night, while Plaintiff was at his duty station,
Plaintiff was approached by Amtrak Police and paramedics from
the local hospital and asked whether he was contemplating
suicide. Rollins denied same, and explained that he was
having work and marital problems, but not contemplating
suicide. Notwithstanding his response, he was taken to a
local hospital for evaluation. Plaintiff was later released
and determined not to have had suicidal thoughts and that he
was not a danger to the railroad. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 15).
Nevertheless, he was placed on medical leave, pending
clearance to return to work. (Rollins Depo. T.
next day, when Newbold arrived at work, he learned from
co-workers about the intervention between Amtrak Police and
Plaintiff the previous evening, and he became concerned about
Plaintiffs emotional stability and fearful of the threats
Plaintiff had made to him on March 12, 2015, and he reported
the incident. (See Adams Cert. Ex. L,
Incident/Investigation Report). Consequently, Semliatschenko
decided to contact Amtrak Police pursuant to Amtrak rules
related to workplace violence especially in light of
Newbold's concerns. (Semliatschenko Depo., Adams Cert Ex.
L, T 34:13-17, 35:8-21). Amtrak Police conducted an
investigation and asked Newbold to submit a statement of what
occurred. It stated that on March 12, 2015, Plaintiff had
threatened him with bodily harm when he stated that "he
would come down to Levittown  and slide one in
me." There were no witnesses present when the
incident occurred. (Newbold Statement, Adams's Cert. Ex
K; Second Amend. Compl. ¶ 16).
Police generated a report of the complaint. (Adams Cert., Ex.
L). Plaintiff denied making such a threat. (Amend. Compl.,
who had been placed on a medical leave and was seeing a
counselor after the EAP/help line incident, was cleared to
return to work in July 2015, so long as he provided
documentation of continued care with a counselor to include
at least 2 visits every 30 days until decreased or released
by the counselor. (ECF No. 37-8 Plaintiffs medical record,
pg. 3). In his evaluation e-mail, on June 30, 2015, Dr.
Robert L. Tanenbaum, who spoke to Plaintiffs counselor,
agreed that Plaintiff "appear[ed] to be emotionally
stable. When he reached out for telephone assistance, he may
have unintentionally created a higher level of concern about
his wellbeing than he anticipated. That said I find him fit
for his duties." (Id., pg. 5).
brief period (length unclear) of returning to work, Plaintiff
was again removed from work pending investigation on the
Newbold incident. (Rollins Depo. T138:15-139:24).
August 10, 2015, an investigatory hearing was held before a
neutral hearing officer, Christopher Stephens. (Adams Cert.
Ex. J). At the hearing, Newbold testified that he had delayed
reporting his complaint because "at the time, . . . [he]
didn't think much about it. It was just a verbal
altercation many that we had - - and didn't put much
thought into it until some of the events that took
place." This included the encounter between Amtrak
Police and Plaintiff over his emotional state wherein Newbold
noted "[Plaintiff] was going to try to somehow some way
commit suicide." (Ex. J T. 40-41).
August 20, 2015, Stephens sent Plaintiff a copy of the
decision which terminated him from his employment. (Adams
Cert. Ex. Q).
decision identified the following charges:
(1) Violation of Amtrak's "Standard of
Excellence" specifically in the context of the sections
entitled Attending to Duties, and Professional and Personal
(2) Violation of Amtrak's "Workplace Violence
Policy," specifically in connection with the March 12,