OSHA Awards Railroad Coach Cleaner Max Allowable Punitive Damages for Injury Report Retaliation
Another railroad whistleblower who was subjected to retaliation by Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. was awarded $260,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA, which issued the determination on December 16, 2014, awarded only $10,000 in compensatory damages to the whistleblower, but also awarded the maximum allowable amount of punitive damages of $250,000. OSHA intended that this punitive damages award would send a message to companies, as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels explained: “When employees, fearing retaliation, hesitate to report work-related injuries and the safety hazards that caused them, companies cannot fix safety problems and neither employees nor the public are safe. In this case, the Metro-North’s conduct was deliberate and discriminatory, and we have assessed the maximum amount in punitive damages allowed under the law.”
The Connecticut-based employee, who is employed by Metro-North as a coach cleaner, was threatened and harassed after reporting a knee injury that he had suffered on the job. According to OSHA’s press release, a Metro-North supervisor told the employee that “railroad employees who are hurt on the job are written up for safety and are not considered for advancement or promotions within the company.” The supervisor delivered this threat while taking the employee to the hospital for his injury. When the employee later reported the injury, Metro-North brought disciplinary charges against him, which prompted the employee to file a claim with OSHA under the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The FRSA protects employees who report workplace injuries from retaliation.
OSHA’s determination comes on the heels of a November 2014 report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which found that “Metro-North Railroad did not have an effective program that encouraged all employees to report safety issues and observations.” NTSB’s finding is further supported by a separate OSHA determination in 2014, where OSHA found that Metro-North retaliated against seven Connecticut employees for following physician instructions instructing them to stay out of work.