Federal court upholds OSHA finding on company who violated worker’s whistleblower rights

Federal court upholds OSHA finding on company who violated worker’s whistleblower rights Photo: Activedia, Pixabay

A federal court affirmed OSHA’s finding that a railroad company violated Maine worker’s whistleblower rights.

Pan Am Railways was ordered to pay $260,000 in punitive and compensatory damages to – and take corrective action on behalf of an employee who was subjected to retaliation for filing a Federal Railroad Safety Act whistleblower complaint.

An investigation into the complaint filed in 2011 found that the railroad company retaliated against the employee who works in a rail yard in Waterville, Maine, when it charged him with dishonesty in connection with his FRSA complaint. The employee tried to report an injury.

OSHA ordered the railroad to take corrective actions and pay the affected employee $10,000 in compensatory damages and $40,000 in punitive damages. Pan Am Railways appealed, and in 2014 an administrative judge upheld the agency’s finding of retaliation and increased the damages to $250,000. The company once again appealed to the department’s Administrative Review Board, which affirmed the judge’s order. It then appealed to the U.S Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which denied the company’ petition on April 21, 2017.

“This case is a strong reminder that our whistleblower laws prohibit reprisals against employees who file whistleblower complaints, report workplace injuries and illnesses, or raise awareness of hazardous safety or security conditions,” said Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.

“A safe and healthy workplace is a goal we should all aspire to achieve. Discriminatory actions by employers, including but not limited to retaliation can freeze employees to silence. Hazardous conditions can go unreported as a result, and lead to avoidable human and financial costs,” said Michael Felsen, the department’s regional solicitor of labor for New England.

The whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes are enforced to protect workers who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.