The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration handed down yet another stinging decision against a railroad operator it determined violated the rights of an employee by retaliating against an injured worker.
Earlier this month, OSHA ordered Pan Am Railways, Inc. to pay $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to an injured worker at its Waterville, MA location. According to the OSHA ruling, Pan Am unfairly and illegally retaliated against the rail yard worker and accused him of lying when he filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act complaint.
The origins of the case go back to December of 2011, when a rail yard worker at a Pan Am facility in Massachusetts filed a safety complaint with OSHA. The worker reported being injured and further claimed that his workplace contained a variety of unsafe working conditions that contributed to his and other workers’ injuries. As a result of his complaint, Pan Am subjected the employee to a disciplinary action. A second disciplinary hearing was held in January where supervisors claimed that the employee made false statements in his OSHA complaint. Disciplinary action was eventually undertaken against the employee, though OSHA has not commented on what steps were taken by the railroad.
OSHA determined that the injured employee was right to file his complaint and that the actions taken by Pan Am amounted to acts of intimidation. OSHA noted that it takes a harsh view of such behavior by railroad operators given that the threat of retaliation can act as a powerful deterrent to keep workers from exercising their rights under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. An OSHA spokesperson went on to underline how important it is for railroad companies to understand that their workers have a legal right to file whistleblower complaints without fear of retaliation. For railroad companies to respond with disciplinary actions is not only wrong, it is clearly illegal.
In addition to the financial settlement, OSHA ordered Pan Am to pay the worker’s attorney’s fees and to compensate the man for wages and benefits lost due to his disciplinary hearings. For its part Pan Am says it will appeal OSHA’s decision.
This recent Pan Am case is unfortunately not as a rare an event as many workers would like to believe. This year alone, OSHA has handed down similar judgments against Metro North, Union Pacific, Metra, Grand Trunk Western Railway, BNSF and Norfolk Southern. In each case, the railroad operators were fined for trampling on the rights of their workers by retaliating against valid reports of injuries. Railroad employees, including conductors, carmen, engineers, mechanics and welders, need to understand that they have the legal right to safety in the workplace and should consult an experienced FELA injury attorney if they have questions or concerns.
Here's a video where one of our experienced Virginia FELA injury attorneys, Richard N. Shapiro, discusses some common railroad claim agent tricks: