In one of two recent large whistleblower decisions in favor of injured railroad employees, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Norfolk Southern to pay a total of $122,199 to a worker who was repeatedly hurt while doing maintenance on tracks owned by the company. According to an August 12, 2011, report on the OSHA ruling, the Virginian-Pilot notes that the rail employee’s award reflects monetary damages for pain and suffering, attorney’s fees and “$75,000 in punitive damages for the company’s reckless disregard of the individual’s rights under the” Federal Railroad Safety Act. NS may appeal the ruling.
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OSHA began investigating the case after the unnamed man was fired by Norfolk Southern. The man had reported an on-the-job injury that he claimed was an aggravation of an earlier injury he had suffered while pulling railroad spikes along NS tracks in Jamestown, North Carolina (NC). Norfolk Southern supervisors accused the worker of providing false information on his injury report and let him go.
OSHA determined that NS had improperly fired the man and wrote in a press release announcing its decision that “not only were the employee’s rights under the FRSA violated, the company also successfully intimidated other employees from reporting on-the-job injuries. This ‘chilling effect’ allowed Norfolk Southern to maintain the appearance of an exemplary safety record and continue its 22-consecutive-year record as recipient of the E.H. Harriman Gold Medal Rail Safety Award.”
As a Virginia FELA and railroad accident injury attorney whose main office is less than 10 miles from NS headquarters, I have long been skeptical of the Norfolk Southern’s record of protecting its employees. In light of OSHA’s ruling and its statement, I feel more sure than ever that railroads must be kept under constant pressure to respect and protect their workers.
This 30-plus-year-old training video is as true now as the day it was filmed: Employers, be they law offices or railways, are barred by federal regulations from retaliating against employees who report injuries or unsafe working conditions: