April 28, 2016 02:00 PM

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has sided with a St. Martin Parish school bus driver and awarded him $75,000 for the mental anguish the driver suffered after being reassigned — after more than 30 years of employment — to the so-called “route from hell.”

Gerald Castille started hauling St. Martin Parish students in 1977, paying his dues in the beginning by being assigned the Levee Route, which, according to the appeals court opinion, “traversed long and dangerous gravel roads and was known for having difficult students and parents.” A footnote in the 3rd Circuit’s opinion cites a former school system employee describing the Levee Route as the “route from hell.” Castille was later assigned the Portage Route and a combined Cypress Island/Terrace Highway Route, which were also considered undesirable routes.

After a few years, Castille was assigned the Highway 31 Route, which he enjoyed and continued to service until the 2007-2008 school year — roughly 27 years. As the 3rd Circuit opinion points out: “By the end of the 2007-08 school year, he had developed a bond with his student passengers and their parents to the point that he considered them ‘family.’”

But in the spring of 2008, according to the appeals court decision, the board, facing rising fuel costs, instructed its Transportation Committee to adjust bus routes. Castille was re-assigned the Levee/Portage Route but assumed, due to his 31 years on the job and the seniority that went with it, that he would be moved back to the Hwy. 31 Route if he didn’t like the Levee/Portage Route. He didn’t like the route — it was as bad as he remembered — but the school system wouldn’t budge.

Castille sued, and a district court judge found that the school board violated the state’s school bus tenure law in failing to assign routes based on seniority. The court awarded Castille damages in the form of repayment in full for time and salary lost due to the board’s actions (unspecified in the appeals court opinion), but declined to award damages for mental anguish.

Castille appealed the trial court’s decision to deny a mental anguish award, and the 3rd Circuit agreed:

While Mr. Castille was predisposed to bouts of anxiety and depression, a fact which the School Board was made aware each year through records supplied by Mr. Castille, these episodes increased substantially after his assignment to the “route from hell” ...

Given the record before us, we find that the School Board is “liable for all damages, foreseeable or not, that are a direct consequence of [its] failure to perform. Thus, the School Board is liable to Mr. Castille for the acceleration of his episodes of anxiety and depression caused by its actions. We set that damage amount at $75,000.00.

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