Baton Rouge readers may be interested to learn that a federal court judge recently issued a ruling in an epic lawsuit that has dragged on beyond the life span of most of its original plaintiffs. The lawsuit may be one the most convoluted employment law cases on record, with more than 19,000 documents filed over a period of 43 years. Even though a U.S. district judge finally delivered a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, only two out of the original 32 people who sued remain alive to see their efforts vindicated.

The employment litigation saga began in 1968 when the New York Central Railroad merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad. At the time of the merger, the plaintiffs worked in Cleveland locations for New York Central and claimed that they were promised they would retain seniority and benefits under the terms of the merger agreement. Penn Central, the company formed out of the merger, asserted that the plaintiffs were employees of Cleveland Union Terminal Company and not entitled to the benefits afforded to New York Central employees.

Although a federal judge concluded that the plaintiffs were New York Central employees in a 1976 ruling, the case has continued ever since to bounce between arbitration panels, appellate courts and bankruptcy proceedings. Today, the assets formerly held by Penn Central sit largely in the hands of American Premier Underwriters, Inc., the company now bound by the recent ruling to pay the employees’ lost benefits and wages.

The ruling in favor of the employees entitles the survivors and the estates of deceased original plaintiffs to a share in a $14.7 million judgment. If the employees’ claims had been paid in 1968, before the suit began, the entire matter could have been settled for just under $565,000.

Even those involved in the lawsuit find it hard to believe that the railroad fought so hard for so long, but the recent ruling does not necessarily mean an end to litigation. It remains to be seen whether the holders of the former railroad’s business interests will appeal the ruling.

Source: WHIO, “Ohio lawsuit may end after 43 years,” The Associated Press, Sept. 13, 2012