A federal court jury in Maine recently decided in favor of a former Springfield Terminal Railways rail yard supervisor who claimed the railroad had illegally terminated his employment after he made official complaints about unsafe working conditions and practices. The incident that prompted the plaintiff's actions involved a diesel fuel spill that another employee with little experience and insufficient training in handling cancer-causing chemical had been ordered to clean up. Company officials' contentions that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the supervisor had a history of being belligerent and insubordinate had previously been found unsubstantiated.
Jurors determined that the man was entitled to payments of back wages and damages totaling $400,000 under a whistle blower law called the Federal Railroad Safety Act, or FRSA, that is administered by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to protect individuals who work for rail corporations. The loss for the Massachusetts-based short-track railroad, which is a subsidiary of the Mississippi-based Pan Am Railways, comes in a long series of similar findings against employers who illegally retaliate against rail workers who speak up about dangerous conditions and life-threating situations on the job.
My Virginia personal injury law firm specializes in representing railroad employees who get hurt or develop debilitating illnesses such as cancer while doing their jobs. We have commented many times on whistle blower suits against the companies like Norfolk Southern and CSX that dominate the rail industry in our state, and we have been pleased to note that the corporations rarely prevail in having their discriminatory and retaliatory practices upheld.
Nothing should matter more to a railroad, or any company, than protecting its workers' health and lives. Evidence shows far too often that this is not the case. For example a Maine environmental protection official testifying on behalf of the Springfield Terminal Railways supervisor told the court that the man "was terminated for doing what he felt necessary to protect the safety of an employee under his charge until he could get answers showing the safety concerns were being met.”
My colleagues and I are glad that this injustice was not allowed to stand uncorrected.