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decided: February 14, 1985.


Appeals from the Orders of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Grace E. DeMay v. Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, No. A-82482 and in case of Duane R. Salsberry v. Bell Telephone Company, No. A-82533.


Kathleen A. Lenahan, with her, John R. Lenahan, Sr., Lenahan & Dempsey, P.C., for petitioner.

Quintes D. Taglioli, Markowitz & Richman, for respondents, DeMay and Salsberry.

Judges Craig and Doyle and Senior Judge Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig. This decision was reached prior to the resignation of Judge Williams, Jr. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by Judge Doyle.

Author: Craig

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 559]

The Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania appeals orders of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in these two similar cases. Although not consolidated for argument, the cases present parallel elements prompting us to dispose of them in this consolidated opinion. In each case, the board affirmed the referee's award of benefits for a psychiatric disability determined to be a compensable injury related to the claimants' employment under section 301(c) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act,*fn1 77 P.S. § 411. We must determine whether substantial evidence*fn2 supports the referees' findings of fact relating to causation.

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 560]

Grace DeMay and Duane Salsberry were both employed at different times in 1979 as repair clerks in Bell's Service Center in Washington, Pennsylvania. DeMay had worked as an operator for Bell in Pittsburgh for thirty years before she accepted the position in Washington because it was more convenient to her home. Salsberry had worked for AT&T for twenty-four years, primarily as an installer, when a knee injury prompted the company to transfer him to the repair clerk position. Both completed a one-week training program for the new job which entailed answering phone calls from customers with service or equipment problems, determining the nature of the problem, and telling the customers when they could expect the repair to be completed. With two repair clerks available on each shift to answer such calls, one of them had to answer each incoming call within twenty seconds of the first ring;*fn3 if the answering pickup was late, a loud buzzer would sound.

DeMay did not perform well at her new job, and frequently required assistance from her co-workers. A supervisor, Christine Flavell, discussed with DeMay some possible approaches to her difficulties with the job, including "retreating" to the operator job DeMay previously held. However, after some additional training, DeMay's work improved and there was no further mention of retreating.

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 561]

Nevertheless, DeMay testified, she continued to experience a significant amount of stress, which she attributed to the work environment and what she considered to be harassment by her supervisors. On October 8, 1979, DeMay became very agitated when a supervisor questioned a repair commitment time that DeMay had given to a customer. When DeMay reported for work the next day, she told Supervisor Flavell that she had not slept well and could not work that day. However, DeMay agreed to stay until her replacement arrived, and told Flavell that she wanted to talk to her. DeMay and Flavell did not get together until that afternoon, by which time DeMay was very anxious and asked Flavell for her union representative's phone number. Flavell told DeMay that she would have to wait until her break to make the call. DeMay got very upset and insisted upon making the call then. Flavell gave DeMay the number, but the union representative was not in when DeMay called, and she became extremely agitated. DeMay told Flavell that she had to see a doctor immediately, and left the office. DeMay never returned to work.

That afternoon, DeMay saw her family physician, Dr. Tripoli, who prescribed tranquilizers and sleeping pills, and referred her to a mental health clinic. There she saw a psychiatrist, Dr. Borerro, who diagnosed DeMay as a compulsive obsessive person then experiencing agitated depression with high anxiety levels. Dr. Borerro has treated DeMay with various chemicals and psychotherapy with little success.

Similarly, Salsberry was not comfortable in his new job, and felt that he was not performing it satisfactorily. However, the record contains no evidence that his supervisors considered his work unsatisfactory, nor that they ever publicly reprimanded him for poor job performance. Salsberry was also unhappy

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 562]

    because he considered Bell's transfer of him to the repair clerk job, which paid $100 per week less than the installer job, to be an unwarranted demotion.

Salsberry had been on the job for approximately three weeks on March 27, 1979, when he felt he could not answer any more phone calls; he collapsed, experienced a momentary loss of vision, and started to cry. His wife picked him up at the service center and took him home. Salsberry saw his family physician, Dr. Adler, who diagnosed his condition as a depressive reaction to stressful conditions at work. Salsberry later consulted a psychiatrist and a psychologist about his continued depression, and both concurred in Dr. Adler's diagnosis.

At the respective referees' hearings, each claimant introduced the testimony of the same clinical psychologist, Dr. Derogatis, who had conducted a study of the Washington Service Center by interviewing approximately twenty employees. Instances of supervisors harassing and publicly humiliating the employees were frequent complaints in Dr. Derogatis' study. His report concluded that the center represented an extremely high stress environment which resulted in the prevalence of psychiatric disorders. Each of the referees accepted that conclusion.

A nervous disability or mental illness arising in the course of employment and related thereto is a compensable injury within the meaning of section 301(c) of the Act, 77 P.S. § 411. University of Pittsburgh v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 49 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 347, 405 A.2d 1048 (1979). However, because of the highly subjective nature of psychiatric injuries, the claimant must adequately pinpoint the occurrence of the injury ...

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