Retaliated-against safety whistleblower to get thousands from ex-employer
OSHA has determined that Universal Trucking Solutions LLC – a defunct Hartford, Connecticut, commercial motor carrier – and its co-owner, Juan Ramirez, violated the whistleblower protections of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).
Agency investigators found that the company and Ramirez retaliated against a driver who repeatedly voiced concerns to management about faulty vehicle maintenance – including missing or inoperative headlights and air pressure leaks – and the company's direction to violate Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hours of service regulations while driving. Management and Ramirez later changed the driver's work schedule, resulting in a reduction to the driver's pay.
The driver resigned in February 2017 after concerns that U.S. Department of Transportation officials would confiscate their Commercial Driver's License; that their livelihood and/or life could be lost because of defective trucks; and because their employer forced them to ignore hours-of-service rules.
Following the investigation, OSHA ordered United Trucking Solutions and Ramirez to take the following corrective actions:
- Pay the driver $8,315.81 in back pay and interest, $75,000 in punitive damages, and $50,000 in compensatory damages for mental pain and emotional distress;
- Pay $21,378.05 in reasonable attorneys' fees to the complainant's attorneys; and
- Refrain from retaliating or discriminating against the complainant in any manner for exercising STAA rights.
"Truck drivers are protected from retaliation when they refuse to violate laws put in place to protect their safety and health," said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in Boston, Massachusetts. "This order reinforces the agency's commitment to protect workers who exercise their right to a safe workplace, and refuse to place themselves and the public at risk."
Either party may appeal the order to the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of STAA and more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.