OSHA News Release: [03/15/2012]
Contact Name: Deanne Amaden or Josť A. Carnevali
Phone Number: (415) 625-2630 or (415) 625-2631
Release Number: 12-0410-SEA
US Department of Labor finds Union Pacific Railroad in violation of Federal Railroad Safety Act for retaliating against whistleblower in Idaho
Railroad ordered to pay nearly $25,000 in damages to employee
SEATTLE The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered Union Pacific Railroad Co. and a railroad official to pay $20,000 in punitive damages, $3,500 in compensatory damages for emotional distress and $1,323 in attorney's fees to an employee at the railroad's Pocatello, Idaho, facility. The order resulted from an investigation by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Seattle that was initiated upon receiving a complaint from the employee.
"It is critically important that Union Pacific Railroad employees in Pocatello and across the nation know that OSHA intends to defend the rights of workers to report safety concerns," said Dean Ikeda, OSHA's regional administrator in Seattle. "We will bring the full force of the law to make sure workers who are retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns are made whole."
OSHA determined that the company violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act by retaliating against a locomotive engineer who had reported that he was too sick to continue working safely and needed medical attention. While traveling between Green River, Wyo., and Pocatello, the engineer reported experiencing symptoms that included a migraine headache, blurred vision, dizziness, vomiting and a bloody nose. His supervisor, a railroad official separately named in the complaint, used threats and intimidation to dissuade the engineer from seeking or gaining access to medical care during his shift. The official is being ordered to pay a portion of the punitive damages to the employee for his callous disregard of the employee's rights.
Upon concluding its investigation, OSHA advised Union Pacific Railroad that the preponderance of the evidence established a violation of the FRSA. OSHA also informed the railroad that the matter could be resolved with a "make whole" settlement and articulated specific terms – including a commitment from the railroad not to retaliate against the employee for having engaged in activities protected under the FRSA, such as filing a complaint with OSHA. Because the railroad refused to agree to refrain from retaliating against the complainant, no settlement was reached.
The department's order requires Union Pacific Railroad to provide training on the whistleblower protection provisions and other compliance required under the FRSA, post OSHA's FRSA "Whistleblower Protection for Railroad Workers" fact sheet at the Pocatello facility and give a copy of the fact sheet to every Pocatello Service Unit employee.
This action follows two previous orders issued by OSHA's Seattle office to Union Pacific Railroad in 2010 and 2011, respectively, for retaliating against employees who had reported work-related injuries. The Omaha, Neb.-based railroad operates in 23 states and employs more than 40,000 workers nationwide, including an estimated 900 at the Pocatello facility.
OSHA conducted this latest investigation under the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA, as amended by the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. Railroad carriers are subject to the FRSA, which protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other protected activities.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.