Lawyer: Case is emotional abuse, not battery

By Michele C. Hladik

The GE employee’s lawyer says the case should go to a jury.

COLUMBUS — An unwanted hug from a co-worker was part of a pattern of intentional emotional abuse, and not battery, on a General Electric employee, a Toledo attorney told the Ohio Supreme Court.

“This is not an assault-and-battery case,” Thomas Sobecki told the high court Wednesday. “This is an intentional infliction of emotional distress case. This is a case that should go to the jury.”

The difference in the two is the amount of time his client, Barry Tenney, would have to file a lawsuit against General Electric and several of his co-workers.

An assault-and-battery case carries a one-year statute of limitations, but intentional emotional distress allows for a four-year statute of limitations.

Sobecki said a pattern of behavior by the employees against Tenney led to the intentional distress claim and the lawsuit.

Tenney reportedly was abused on numerous occasions while working at GE’s Warren location for being homosexual. Tenney had been employed at that plant since 1973, and he continues to work there.

In 2000, Tenney filed a lawsuit against the company and several co-workers claiming he suffered emotional distress from his co-workers.

One specific claim of abuse referenced throughout the case occurred in 1999 when company nurse Joanne O’Neil reportedly apologized for past remarks and gave Tenney a lengthy “full body” hug despite his objections.

GE filed a motion to have the case dismissed, and the trial court agreed, stating the 1999 incident fit the definition of battery which fell within the one-year statute of limitations, and Tenney had filed his lawsuit too late.

The 11th District Court of Appeals narrowly reversed the trial court’s decision and gave it back to the trial court for further proceedings. The case was then brought to the state Supreme Court.

Sobecki said there are many facts that need to be considered in the case, including the pattern of abuse by O’Neil and others.

“The other things add to the fact it’s an emotional distress case,” he told the court. “The conduct in this case was over time, but was nonphysical.”

He added that’s what kept it from becoming an assault-and-battery case.

Cleveland attorney Greg Mersol represented the company.

He told the court the main incident was the 1999 “hug” and constituted an assault.

“Since the essence of this case is the assault, the one-year statute of limitations should apply,” Mersol said. The Supreme Court took the matter under advisement.

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