The Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has been ordered to fork over more than $1 million to three former employees who were fired after they reported workplace injuries.
Our Atlanta work injury lawyers know that the railway firm is one of the largest in in the country, covering a large swath of the East Coast and stretching into the Midwest. Headquartered in Virginia, it employes some 30,000 union workers.
Workers employed by rail companies are protected from retaliation for reporting workplace injuries or safety violations under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109. Part of the law has to do with reporting fraud, abuse and waste. Under Section (b) 1-3, rail companies are not allowed to fire, demote, reprimand, suspend or in any other way discriminate against a worker who:
- In good faith reports a dangerous safety or security issue;
- Refuses to work in hazardous safety conditions or when there is an unaddressed security issue;
- Refuses to authorize the use of any safety-related equipment, structures or track if those materials are deemed unsafe.
In this case, the rail company reportedly violated this law not once – but three times to three different workers in two different states.
In fact, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports that this firm has had an extensive history of doing this, and that the result has been “a chilling effect in the railroad industry.”
And yet, these brave workers still stood for what was right and chose to come forward.
The first of these was a crane operator in Indiana. He was reportedly operating a crane while helping to build a bridge when flecks of metal and rust entered his eye. He reportedly had to undergo a procedure to have the material removed. When he reported this to his employer, he was taken out of service for a short time before he was fired, with the company reportedly finding that the worker had “made false statements” about his injuries. But when OSHA conducted its investigation, inspectors determined that if the worker had not reported his injury, he would never have been fired.
As such, OSHA determined he was owed roughly $440,000 in damages, including $100,000 for compensatory damages, $175,000 in punitive damages, about $156,000 in benefits and back wages and $6,000 in penalties that he incurred when he had to cash in savings bond prior to their maturity date after he’d been fired. The company has also been ordered to give him his job back, along with the sick and vacation days he would have earned up to this point.
The second and third cases stemmed from the same incident. One was a welder and a welder’s helper, based out of Pennsylvania. Both had been nearly four decades with the company without any problems. Then one day while they were riding in a company truck, another vehicle ran a red light, slamming into another vehicle which then slammed into the company truck. At first, the workers reported only minor pain and stiffness and soreness. They initially declined to receive any medical treatment. But then pain for both intensified and they both ended up getting treatment in a local hospital. When this was reported to superiors, they were placed on leave. An internal investigation found them guilty of giving false reports about their injuries, which the firm indicated was akin to misconduct. They were subsequently fired.
OSHA, however, found that the pair were fired for reporting their injuries. The agency was ordered to pay the two approximately $685,000 in damages, with $300,000 of that in punitive damages.
The company has also been ordered to post employee whistleblower protection rights at each work site and train workers on their rights under FRSA.
If you or a loved one has been injured at work in Georgia, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.
OSHA orders Norfolk Southern to pay whistle-blowers $1.1 mln, March 4, 2013, By Brendan O’Brien, Thomson Reuters
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Georgia Workers at Risk When Fall-Protection Measures Lacking, Jan. 31, 2013, Atlanta Work Injury Lawyer Blog