In Landmark Case, Amtrak Worker Wins $160K for Workplace Retaliation
In late 2007, the woman lost her job after reporting that she hurt her ankle at a Seattle Amtrak facility. The worker was merely carrying garbage bags from a train platform to a pickup truck when she stepped down about 12 inches onto unstable gravel and sprained the ankle, according to the Seattle Times.
Amtrak claimed she was let go for failing to exercise "common sense" on the job. That didn't fly with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which launched an investigation. While the investigation was pending, Amtrak converted the termination to a 30-day unpaid suspension.
According to OSHA, Amtrak retaliated against her reporting her ankle sprain. Amtrak appealed, but a U.S. Department of Labor administrative law judge ruled that Amtrak violated the 2007 amendment to the Federal Railroad Safety Act prohibiting harassment or intimidation for reporting on-duty injuries. This is the first retaliation case that has reached a judge since the law was revised to add the additional worker protections.
While OSHA had only fined Amtrak $20,000, the judge significantly upped the ante by awarding the worker $60,000 in compensatory damages, $100,000 in punitive damages, and about $3,000 in back pay. Amtrak was also order to scrub her personnel file of any reference to the disciplinary action.
Fredric A. Bremseth, the Amtrak worker's attorney, said that "This is an historic case that vindicates Congressional findings that railroads do in fact engage in retaliation and harassment of injured employees in order to keep them from reporting work-related injuries. We are very pleased for our client, and hope this landmark case will put railroads on notice that they can no longer intimidate their employees to keep them from reporting on-the-job injuries."
If you work in the railroad industry and been the victim of employer retaliation of this kind, remember that you have federal law legal protections and can pursue compensation relating to the retaliatory act. Determining whether or not you should file a retaliation claim is extremely important and you should consult with an experienced attorney right away to discuss what legal option is best for you and your family.