Labor Dept. orders railroads to pay back wages, damages

Michael P. Tremoglie Jul. 24, 2012, 5:43am

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday ordered two railroad companies to pay three workers $650,729.14 in back wages and damages for allegedly retaliating against them for being whistleblowers.

The action resulted from investigations conducted by Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for enforcing whistleblower protection laws and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

"It is critically important that railroad employees in the Midwest and across the nation know that OSHA intends to defend the rights of workers who report injuries and safety concerns," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

"We will use the full force of the law to make sure that workers who are retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns are made whole."

OSHA conducted the investigations under the FRSA's whistleblower provisions, which protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other protected activities. OSHA said that the Illinois Central Railroad violated the FRSA by retaliating against two employees for reporting workplace injuries at their Markham, Ill., railroad yard.

According to OSHA, a conductor was injured when he was knocked unconscious and injured his shoulder, back and head while switching railcars. A knuckle that connects the cars allegedly broke, causing the cars to suddenly jolt and the employee to fall. The railroad investigated the incident and consequently terminated the conductor because it said he had violated safety rules.

But OSHA said the worker was terminated in reprisal for reporting a work-related injury. It ordered the railroad to pay the conductor a total of $269,707.27, which includes $81,393.49 in back wages, $4,695.78 in vacation pay, $4,368 for medical bills and $4,250 in attorney's fees, as well as punitive damages of $100,000 and compensatory damages of $75,000.

The second employee, a carman, reported an arm/shoulder injury that occurred walking along a platform to inspect railcars. The carman slipped on ice and tried to catch himself, which jolted his left arm and shoulder. The railroad held an investigative hearing and consequently terminated the carman's employment for violating the company's injury reporting procedures.

OSHA concluded that the injury was properly reported and ordered the railroad to reinstate the worker if approved medically. The railroad must pay the employee a total of $154,694, including $14,694 in back wages, punitive damages of $75,000 and compensatory damages of $65,000.

Illinois Central Railroad also must provide a copy of OSHA's "Whistleblower Protection for Railroad Workers" fact sheet to every employee at the Markham Yard.

It was determined by OSHA that the Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad violated the FRSA by terminating a conductor in retaliation for raising concerns about workplace safety while serving in his role as a local union chairman.

He claimed that a trainmaster had instructed him to operate a train in violation of certain Federal Railroad Administration rules in June 2009 near Fort Wayne, Ind.

The railroad said that the conductor was terminated for failing to pass a locomotive engineer certification test. OSHA's order requires the railroad to provide the conductor with training and another opportunity to pass the test, and then upon his passing the test to reinstate his employment under the same terms and conditions as if he had passed the exam in 2009.

The railroad must also pay a total of $226,327.87, including back wages of $67,736.12, compensatory damages of $75,000, and punitive damages of $75,000 and attorneys fees of $8,591.75.

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