Serial Offender Union Pacific Railroad Continues Retaliation
March 29, 2012 - Comments Off
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) of the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has ordered Union Pacific Railroad Co. to pay damages to yet another railroad worker for retaliating against him in violation of the whistleblower protections of the Federal Rail Safety Act (“FRSA”). It is the third time in recent months that OSHA has ordered the railroad to pay damages for retaliating against employees who reported work-related injuries.
The whistleblower was a locomotive engineer who reported to his supervisor that he was too sick to continue working safely and needed medical attention. The engineer reported experiencing symptoms that included a migraine headache, blurred vision, dizziness, vomiting and a bloody nose. His supervisor proceeded to use threats and intimidation to dissuade the engineer from seeking or gaining access to medical care during his shift.
OSHA determined that this harassment constituted a violation of the FRSA, which protects employees from retaliation when they report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in certain other protected activities. Union Pacific was ordered to pay $20,000 in punitive damages, $3,500 in compensatory damages for emotional distress and $1,323 in attorney’s fees to the employee, who worked at the railroad’s Pocatello, Idaho, facility.
Lisa J. Banks, a whistleblower attorney at the D.C. law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, pointed out that the OSHA determination illustrated an important aspect of FRSA whistleblower protections. “Unlike some other whistleblower laws,” Banks said, “the FRSA protects workers not only for reporting some unlawful course of conduct on the part of the employer, but also, as in this case, for simply reporting his own injury or medical condition. That is sufficient to constitute protected activity under the FRSA.” Banks noted that “whistleblower laws like this one exist to protect employees. It is important that employees know what their rights are and take advantage of the protections they have been afforded.”