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decided: March 10, 1987.


Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, in the case of Joyce Pate v. Boeing Vertol Company, No. A-88485.


Larry Pitt, for petitioner.

Clifford A. Goldstein, Rawle & Henderson, Of Counsel: Peter J. Weber and Paul M. Roadarmel, for respondent, Boeing Vertol Company.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judge Barry, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 482]

Joyce Pate appeals a Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board order which reversed a referee's decision and

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 483]

    denied compensation based on a psychiatric disability. We affirm.

Pate, an electronics assembler at Boeing Vertol, was required to work with small components and wires in the manufacture of helicopter parts. Pate suffered from a pre-existing schizophrenic condition for which she had been receiving psychiatric treatment. The referee made findings of fact indicating that Pate suffered an exacerbation of her schizophrenic condition due to her supervisor's repeated rejection of her work on certain electronic components.*fn1 The Board reversed the referee's

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 484]

    compensation award, finding that Pate's mental injury was a subjective reaction to a normal work situation.*fn2

Pate contends initially that the Board erred*fn3 because she has adequately pinpointed the cause of her psychiatric disability based upon an objective reaction to an abnormal working condition. Thomas v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Atlantic Refining Co.), 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 449, 423 A.2d 784 (1980).

In Thomas this Court held that a claimant's subjective reaction to a normal work condition is not a compensable injury. We further interpreted this standard in Hirschberg v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Department of Transportation), 81 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 579, 474 A.2d 82 (1984), where we held that a claimant's distorted, subjective perceptions are not sufficient to provide the necessary causal connection between the employment and the mental injury. Although

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 485]

    we agree that Pate has adequately identified actual (not merely perceived or imagined) employment events which have precipitated her psychiatric injury, these events do not constitute an abnormal working condition.

The referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law imply that having to work a full week on a task usually completed in three hours constitutes an abnormal working condition. However, the Board decided as a matter of law that such working conditions, as well as the events surrounding Pate's employment termination, were not so abnormal or unusual in relation to those of her fellow workers so as to impose workmen's compensation liability upon her employer.*fn4 We agree with the Board.

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 486]

Our review of the record discloses no evidence that Pate's working conditions were any different from those of her fellow employees. While we recognize the tedious and painstaking nature of Pate's work task, these factors alone are not unusual for this type of employment. Nor does the testimony support a conclusion that it was abnormal or unusual for Pate's supervisors to reject work which did not meet its standards. Criticism for improper work is not per se abnormal when an employee has a consistently poor work performance. Therefore, we agree with the Board that workmen's compensation liability cannot be imposed upon Boeing Vertol based on Pate's inability to continue her work duties.*fn5 See Moonblatt Page 486} v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (City of Philadelphia), 85 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 128, 481 A.2d 374 (1984) (attorney for City of Philadelphia failed to prove that pressure and overcrowding of work environment was abnormal).

Lastly, Pate contends that the higher burden of proof imposed upon claimants seeking compensation for mental injuries amounts to unconstitutionally disparate treatment of psychiatric and physical injuries. We disagree.

We note initially that despite the advanced state of modern psychology, psychiatric and physical injuries are not susceptible to the same objective standard of proof. Psychiatric diagnoses are characteristically subjective in nature. Therefore, we believe that the requirement set forth in Thomas that a claimant adequately pinpoint the objective cause of a mental injury rationally relates to the governmental interest in discouraging meritless or fraudulent claims. The abnormal working condition requirement similarly deters dubious claims and, in effect, charges an employer with workmen's compensation liability only where the claimant's psychiatric injury can be traced to some abnormality in the work relationship. In light of the subjective nature of psychiatric claims, we believe that this additional, substantive burden of proving an abnormal work condition is reasonable to prevent a multitude of psychiatric injury claims based on normal work conditions.

Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board.

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 487]


The Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board order, No. A-88485 dated November 8, 1985, is affirmed.



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