ARLINGTON, Va. (Legal Newsline) - The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Monday that a Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission administrative law judge ordered Cumberland River Coal Co. to reinstate miner Charles Howard.
The company also had to pay acivil penalty of $30,000, increasing MSHA's original proposed penalty of$20,000.
Howard allegedly suffered head injuries on the job in June 2010 and was discharged almost immediately upon his return the following May. He filed a complaint of discrimination with MSHA, alleging that he was fired in violation of federal labor laws.
After a MSHA investigation, it was determined that there was merit to the complaint and a case filed with the review commission. According to court documents, Cumberland River Coal Co. refused to allow Howard to return to his job after being released to return to work by his treating physician.
Instead, the mine operator sought the supplemental opinion of a doctor who, after changing his mind from his earlier diagnosis, determined that Howard could not return to work.
"There is no suggestion that Howard was terminated due to poor work performance and there was no incident that would have justified his termination," wrote Administrative Law Judge Margaret A. Miller.
"The only difficulty that [the mine operator] had with Howard was the fact that he continued to make safety complaints and continued to contact MSHA. Finally, not only was there open hostility against Howard, he was treated differently than other miners who had suffered a work-related injury."
Cumberland River Coal did notrespond to a request for a statement.
"Among the most critical provisions of the Mine Act - and one of my top priorities - is the protection of miners against retaliation for raising health and safety concerns," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.
"This decision represents a victory not only for Mr. Howard but for all miners whospeak out about hazardous conditions."