Mine Safety Whistleblower Reinstated by Administrative Law Judge

June 22, 2012 - Comments Off

An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) ordered Kentucky-based Cumberland River Coal Company to reinstate whistleblower Charles Scott Howard last week, finding that the company improperly terminated the eastern Kentucky coal miner in May 2011 following a workplace injury he sustained ten months earlier.  Following his injury, the ALJ found, Howard was treated extensively by “two neurosurgeons, two eye doctors, a psychiatrist and others,” and after treatment those doctors “found no impairment and [cleared him] to return to work.”  Despite that, the company then had its own doctor examine Mr. Howard.  The company doctor found that Howard could no longer work in coal mining, and the company subsequently terminated him.

This was likely due to the fact that, as CBS News reports, Howard has a history of whistleblowing activities involving coal mines.  Judges have reinstated Mr. Howard on at least two other occasions where he had been terminated in retaliation for blowing the whistle on unsafe conditions in coal mines.  In 2007, Howard testified before Congress about mine safety issues and recorded a video of leaking mine seals.  According to ALJ Margaret A. Miller, who issued the reinstatement order last week, “It is obvious that CRCC worked diligently to end Howard’s employment.”

In addition to reinstating Mr. Howard, Cumberland River has been ordered to pay a $30,000 fine for discriminatory practices.  Lisa J. Banks, a whistleblower attorney at the D.C. law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, welcomed the ALJ’s decision.  “Companies don’t have the right to manufacture reasons to get rid of employees who tell the truth about their employers’ wrongdoing,” said Ms. Banks.

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