A federal appeals court has affirmed that Pan Am Railways, Inc., must 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.
Tried to report an injury
OSHA investigated the complaint, filed in 2011, against the North Billerica-based commercial railroad and found the railroad 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 had tried to report an injury.
The department 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 law judge upheld the agency’s finding of retaliation and increased the amount of punitive damages to $250,000. The railroad 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 railroad’s 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.
Freezing employees into silence
“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 into 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.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees 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.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.