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MSHA gets mine whistleblower reinstated (2/9)

February 9, 2011
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The complaint was anonymous, but when the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) followed up on it by speaking with a miner involved in an accident, he was fired the same day.

That action led to a discrimination case, a temporary reinstatement, then toanother complaint being lodged against the company – this time for post-reinstatement retaliation.

In an agreement announced Monday by MSHA. Comunidad Agricola Bianchi Inc. of San Juan, Puerto Rico, agreed to permanently reinstate Jose A. Chaparro to his job at the mine and to pay him $6,000 in back wages, as well as a $15,000 penalty. The mine operator also agreed that it would not unlawfully discriminate against any miner in its employ for engaging in protected activity.

In August 2009, MSHA launched an investigation into safey issues at the mine after received an anonymous hazard complaint that included details about an unreported June 2009 accident involving Chaparro. Shortly after cooperating with investigators, Chaparro was fired by the mine superintendent.

In a complaint filed with the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, MSHA sought a finding that Chaparro was unlawfully discriminated against and discharged in violation of Section 105(c)(1) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, which states that miners, their representatives and applicants for employment are protected from retaliation for engaging in safety and/or health-related activities, such as identifying hazards, asking for MSHA inspections or refusing to engage in an unsafe act. The complaint also sought Chaparro's reinstatement to his position or a comparable one, $6,000 in back pay, all employment benefits, all medical and hospital benefits, and any and all other damages suffered and incurred by Chaparro as a result of the discriminatory discharge, as well as a $15,000 civil money penalty.

Following a hearing in February 2010, a judge ordered Chaparro temporarily reinstated to his job at the mine. In a second amended complaint, MSHA brought a claim of post-reinstatement retaliation against Comunidad Agricola Bianchi Inc. and three individual representatives of the mine.

"The Mine Act is clear," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Miners have a right to participate in an MSHA investigation, and they may not be fired, demoted, harassed, transferred, refused employment or suffer any loss of wages for exercising their right. Meanwhile, my department's Mine Safety and Health Administration will continue to vigorously investigate all discriminatory complaints."

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