Illinois Trucking Whistleblower Wins Reinstatement and $190,000
March 14, 2012 - Comments Off
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) of the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has ordered a Georgia-based trucking company to reinstate and pay damages to an Illinois truck driver they terminated for reporting safety concerns. OSHA announced in a press release that it ordered Interline Logistics Group, LLC, to immediately reinstate the trucker on February 29, 2012, to pay $190,000 in back wages, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages, and to refrain in the future from retaliating against the employee for exercising rights guaranteed under the whistleblower-protection provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (“STAA”).
OSHA alleged that the trucker was terminated in retaliation for notifying the company of safety concerns about the brakes on his truck and refusing to violate Department of Transportation (“DOT”) regulations for allowable driving and rest hours. The company had directed the driver to a repair shop to service the brakes, and, upon completion of the service call, had instructed him to proceed to his dispatch location to pick up a return load. The driver declined to do so, stating he was over the work hours allowed for truck drivers by DOT regulations. The following day, the driver was terminated for supposedly failing to follow dispatch instructions. However, OSHA’s investigation found reasonable cause to believe that the disciplinary charges and termination were not based on the driver’s breaking a company work rule but on his reporting a safety issue and refusing to violate DOT regulations.
The STAA, as amended in 2007, provides protections for commercial motor vehicle drivers who insist on complying with trucking safety laws and standards. A trucking employer may not retaliate against an employee for refusing to operate a vehicle because the operation would violate a federal commercial motor vehicle rule related to safety, health, or security, or because the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to herself or to the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety or security condition. Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Lisa J. Banks, who represents STAA whistleblowers, noted, “You don’t need to blow the whistle on widespread wrongdoing to have protection under the STAA. The simple act of refusing to disobey federal safety regulations is protected activity under the STAA, and your company cannot legally retaliate against you for doing so.”