A recent federal appeals court ruling has affirmed that Pan Am Railways has engaged in retaliatory practices against a worker who reported safety violations to OSHA.
Much like how the Jones Act is designed to protect injured maritime workers, railroad workers have similar protections such as the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (or FELA) and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (or FRSA). These acts are designed to help workers seek financial compensation if they are injured on the job due to employer negligence and protects their rights to file statements to OSHA in the event of an incident.
An employee (whose name has not been released due to Labor Department regulations) of a Pan Am railway in Waterville, Maine filed an OSHA complaint in December of 2011 claiming he had been subjected to disciplinary action following his report of an injury to his left ankle that he suffered at work, as well as describing the unsafe work conditions he and his fellow workers had been subjected to. He received a letter of reprimand for this report, and in early 2012 the railroad held a second disciplinary hearing.
Upon investigating the complaint, however, OSHA found that the disciplinary actions taken against the worker were done in retaliation to the complaints filed. The railroad had claimed that the worker was being dishonest in his complaint, alleging that he was disciplined over direct disobedience of a safety rule.
An OSHA regional administrator reviewed the claims and found reasonable cause to believe that Pan Am had retaliated against the employee for filing the FRSA complaint by scheduling the second disciplinary meeting. The employee then amended his FRSA statement to include the disciplinary hearing, stating that he was not given a chance to explain discrepancies in his initial statement before the second disciplinary action was taken.
The case then went to a federal appeals court, which quickly affirmed that Pan Ram Railways needs to pay compensatory and punitive damages to the employee, including medical expenses for the injury and reasonable attorney’s fees for the case itself.
This case is a perfect example of why worker’s protection laws like the Jones Act and the FRSA exist. Without these laws in place, major shipowners, railways, and other large companies would be able to infringe on the rights of workers with no impunity.
If this or something similar has happened to you while working for a railroad, the experienced railroad injury lawyers at O’Bryan Law can help. Contact us today.