Rants at CSX union meetings involved talk of murder, explosions

By Steve Korris and Chris Dickerson | Apr 23, 2009

WHEELING – CSX Transportation workers lined up to sue the railroad for asbestos exposure at union meetings where they proposed killing the boss's children and blowing up bridges, according to the man who served them coffee and doughnuts.

Robert Gilkison, who formerly worked for the Pittsburgh law firm of Peirce, Raimond and Coulter, swore in an April 7 deposition that he heard hundreds of "rant and rave" sessions.

"It's like sports fans," Gilkison testified. "Kill the referees, whatever."

CSX filed a lawsuit in 2005 against the Peirce firm and Robert Gilkison, one of its former employees. The complaint said two CSX employees came up with a plan to defraud the company by having an employee who already had been diagnosed with asbestosis show up for an X-ray screen for another employee with no signs of the illness.

CSX says Gilkison, who was hired by the Peirce firm as a "runner" to round up former colleagues for lawsuits, suggested that CSX employee Ricky May get someone who previously tested positive to pretend to be him at a 2000 asbestos screening.

CSX claims May had Danny Jayne, a CSX worker who had been diagnosed with asbestosis in 1999, to impersonate him for the X-ray. The suit says Gilkison helped make this happen by letting May complete the paperwork and walking Jayne through the exam.

The Peirce Law Firm has acknowledged that scam, but says it wasn't behind it. The firm also says it didn't know about Gilkison's part in the plan and that, because he was a contractor, it isn't responsible for Gilkison's actions.

On April 20, the Peirce firm submitted testimony to U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp to show why Gilkison disregarded much of what he heard.

In the process, firm leader Robert Peirce threw former friends under the bus.

Peirce didn't gain much, for Gilkison's testimony cast the railroad in the light of victim rather than oppressor.

"When the president of CSX, John Snow, they released that he got 24 million, people in there threatened to kill him and hang him, tar and feather him, kill his kids," Gilkison said. "Whenever the railroad were putting rule changes in, they're gonna blow up bridges. They're gonna do this or that."

Someone asked if he overheard people threatening lives of children.

"They might have done that," Gilkison said.

Someone asked if he reported that.

"Oh no," Gilkison said. "No."

Someone asked if he overheard terroristic threats about bridges and rails.

"In the 29 years I was there at maybe 300 or 400 union meetings I heard this approximately every meeting," Gilkison said. "If I would have called somebody 500 or 600 times and reported that, I would be locked up right now instead of sitting here with you."

He said he didn't organize or direct asbestos screening events but acted as a greeter who got coffee and doughnuts.

Against that background, according to the Peirce firm, Gilkison ignored Ricky May when he said someone else sat for his X-ray.

Gilkison testified he didn't believe May, he thought May was crazy or lying, he didn't take it seriously and he thought May was a nut case.

Gilkison said if he knew May had done it, "I would have turned him in, in a minute."

May had done it, and CSX found out.

On April 6, CSX moved for partial summary judgment against Gilkison and the Peirce firm on the May fraud alone, within a fraud suit involving many claims.

CSX lawyer Marc Williams of Huntington wrote that Gilkison ignored a duty to report the May fraud and kept silent to assure its success.

"There could not be a clearer set of facts pointing directly to the conclusion that defendant Gilkison, through his intentional misrepresentations, is liable to CSX for the committed fraud," Williams wrote.

CSX relied on a representation that May's X-ray was genuine, he wrote.

For the Peirce firm, Walter DeForest of Pittsburgh opposed the motion on April 20.

He wrote that "the purpose of the May fraud was not to benefit the Peirce firm but rather to get back at CSX for firing Mr. May."

He wrote that in the same conversation May told Gilkison he underwent surgery three times when he had no ailment.

"Mr. Gilkison understandably testified in this context that he didn't believe that Mr. May actually had someone sit for an X-ray for him," DeForest wrote. "Frankly, we fail to see how a jury could believe Mr. May over Mr. Gilkison, given that Mr. May has admitted committing a criminal act and has now tried to implicate the Peirce firm only after reaching a deal with CSX in part to avoid criminal prosecution, after he first refused to testify to avoid self incrimination."

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