In a decision being regarded as a victory for miners' rights, a U.S. Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by Cordero Mining LLC of Gillette, Wyo., in a worker discrimination case.
Cindy L. Clapp, a shovel operator with 28 years of experience as a miner, filed a complaint with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in May of 2010, claiming she was terminated in retaliation for her repeated safety complaints. Clapp claimed that her unlawful discharge had a chilling effect on the willingness of other miners to raise safety issues at the mine.
In December 2011, an administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission found that the company had unlawfully discriminated against the employee and ordered the company ordered to reinstate a discharged employee to her former position, make her whole for lost wages and benefits, remove from her personnel files references to the unlawful discharge and pay a civil penalty of $40,000.
The latest ruling comes in response to the mine operator's appeal of that decision.
In its decision, the appeals court found substantial evidence to support the administrative law judge's finding of discrimination and his decision to award full back pay. In addition, the court found that the $40,000 penalty was not excessive or an abuse of discretion.
Cordero has until Dec. 31, 2012, to petition the court for a rehearing.
"This decision represents a resounding victory for miners and their right to identify hazardous conditions that imperil themselves and their fellow miners without fear of reprisal," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.
During fiscal year 2012, MSHA filed 39 requests – more than in any other year – with the commission for temporary reinstatements on behalf of miners who submitted complaints of discrimination in the form of a suspension, layoff, discharge or other adverse action.