GREAT FALLS — A North Carolina woman is suing Amtrak saying it failed to protect her from an employee who raped her in her sleeping car while the train passed through northeastern Montana in April 2015.
The lawsuit argues that under the Common Carrier Doctrine, Amtrak should be held to the "highest degree of care" with regard to passenger safety. Amtrak says the doctrine applies only when an employee is acting within the scope of their employment, the Great Falls Tribune reports.
The lawsuit, filed in April, says Charles Henry Pinner, 59, of Detroit raped the 68-year-old woman in April 2015 as the Empire Builder train passed through Wolf Point. Pinner was convicted of kidnapping and sexual intercourse without consent in September 2016 and is serving a 60-year prison term. He is appealing his conviction.
The woman reports suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and rape trauma syndrome along with anxiety and depression. She continues to see a psychiatrist and a psychologist and is on antidepressants, the lawsuit said.
Amtrak did not complete an "industry-standard" background check on Pinner, despite his acknowledgment of a criminal history in his initial job application, the complaint said. Such a check would have shown convictions for felony robbery and drug trafficking, court records said.
The woman alleges Amtrak knew Pinner told a female co-worker in 2000 that, "I have no trouble strangling a white woman." Pinner is black.
Pinner was fired in 2002 after a complaint alleged he violated Amtrak's personal conduct, honesty and safety policies. He was reinstated five months later.
Amtrak dismissed Pinner again in 2006 after a formal investigation into reports that he was selling pornography while on the job. However, Pinner and his union appealed the firing and a binding board determined the discipline was too severe.
Amtrak argues nothing in Pinner's background check or work behavior would have led a reasonable employer to believe he would kidnap and rape a passenger. The passenger rail line also argues it had no choice in retaining Pinner because the appeal process that led to his reinstatement is governed by the Railway Labor Act.
Amtrak cooperated with Montana authorities in the prosecution of the rape case, spokesman Marc Magliari said Monday.
During a pretrial hearing earlier this month, the case was set for trial in February 2019 in Great Falls.