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Jury orders GM to pay worker

September 08, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A worker at the General Motors plant in Martinsburg was awarded $207,000 on claims the automaker made it hard for him to work after he injured his back, according to federal court records.

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Robert J. Fox, 53, of Martinsburg, alleged he and other disabled workers on light duty were placed at a small table surrounded by able-bodied workers "which effectively segregated and stigmatized" Fox and the other disabled workers, according to court records.

A federal jury in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg on Aug. 25 cleared GM of intentional discrimination but agreed with Fox's claims the company created a hostile work environment based on his disability, according to court records.

A GM spokeswoman did not return a phone call for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Fox has worked for GM since 1968 but took an 11-year disability leave in June 1980 after he injured his back in a nonwork-related injury, according to court records.

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He reinjured his back in 1992 while working at the plant and went back on disability from November 1993 until October 1994, according to court records.

A doctor cleared him for light work duty in October 1994 and he was put to work labeling and packaging automotive parts, said Fox's attorney, Terry Armentrout of Harrisonburg, Va.

Fox testified that he and the other disabled workers were put at a small table in the middle of the room where they would be ridiculed by supervisors, Armentrout said.

The disabled workers at the table were called "hospital people" and "911 people" and were the target of derisive jokes, Armentrout said Fox testified.

Fox testified he was denied the opportunity for overtime hours, Armentrout said.

Workers not on disability were allowed to get overtime doing Fox's job after his and the other disabled workers' eight-hour shifts ended, Armentrout said.

"We felt that this was a form of punishment," Armentrout said.

Fox filed a lawsuit against GM in April 1995 but continued to work at the Martinsburg plant.

Fox's frustration with the situation boiled over Aug. 15, 1995, when a supervisor allegedly blew smoke at him and laughed in his face after he asked to be transferred to a forklift job, Armentrout said.

Fox went back on disability for physical and emotional reasons until May 22, 1998, Armentrout said.

Fox now works as a crib attendant in the warehouse section of the GM plant, Armentrout said.

A jury deadlocked on the case in February and the case was retried in August, Armentrout said.

The jury awarded Fox $200,000 in compensatory damages, $3,000 for medical bills and $4,000 for lost overtime, according to court records.

Armentrout said he expects the automaker to appeal the jury's decision.

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