English v. General Electric Company

PETITIONER: English
RESPONDENT: General Electric Company
LOCATION: Buie Residence

DOCKET NO.: 89-152
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 496 US 72 (1990)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1990

ADVOCATES:
Carter G. Phillips - on behalf of the Respondent
Christopher J. Wright - as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioner
M. Travis Payne - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for English v. General Electric Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 1990 in English v. General Electric Company

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 89-152, Vera English v. General Electric Corporation.

Mr. Payne.

M. Travis Payne:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

I will be sharing argument this morning with someone from the Solicitor General's Office.

I will summarize the facts and address the nature of the claim before you.

He will then address the case law involved.

My intention is to reserve five minutes of our allotted time for rebuttal.

Vera English worked for nearly 12 years in a laboratory at General Electric's nuclear fuel processing plant.

She did analysis to assure the quality of material placed in nuclear fuel rods.

Over the years she made a number of complaints concerning safety and quality, both to General Electric's management and to the NRC.

As a result of those complaints, on March 15, 1984, she was removed from her job in the analytical lab; and on July 30th of that same year, she was discharged from her employment with General Electric.

We have alleged, and for purposes of this appeal it must be accepted as true, that the actions taken against Mrs. English were indeed taken in retaliation for her reports.

In fact, the Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge found that she was the victim of retaliation.

He also found that GE's witnesses were just not believable in attributing the actions against to concerns that she might endanger other employees.

But I want to make it clear that we are not here relitigating the Section 210 action under a state law theory.

This is an intentional infliction of emotional distress case, and the issues that will be before a jury at a trial of this matter are significantly different from those considered under a Section 210 action.

Under North Carolina law, we must first establish that the conduct directed towards Mrs. English was extreme and outrageous.

As set forth quite thoroughly in the National Conference of State Legislators' brief, that is a very, very high standard, and only the most egregious situations will meet it.

It requires considerably more than merely a retaliatory discharge.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Payne, what... what was the finding of the district court and of the court of appeals as to whether you had stated a claim under North Carolina law?

M. Travis Payne:

Both of those courts found in response to the 12(b)(6) motion that we had in fact asserted all of the elements of such a claim.

William H. Rehnquist:

And that that did... your... your pleadings, therefore, did state a claim under North Carolina law?

M. Travis Payne:

Yes.

There's no question about that.

That's a... a specific finding in Judge Dupree's ruling in the district court and clearly affirmed at the court of appeal.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Was the retaliatory discharge one of the elements that you included in alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress?

M. Travis Payne:

No, Your Honor.

What we are alleging is a period of some four and a half months.

What happened in this case, and what we assert, is that rather than merely giving Mrs. English a pink slip and escorting her off the plant on March 15th, they instead harassed and humiliated her--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, but I mean, I take it your position is the same if we... if you excise from your complaint or if you excise from the trial of the case the fact of the discharge, I take it you still can proceed with your cause of action?