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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Feds order Metro-North to pay maximum punitive damages for violating injured worker's rights


The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered MTA Metro-North Railroad to pay a Connecticut employee $250,000 in punitive damages and $10,000 in compensatory damages, and to cover attorney fees for violating the employee's rights by retaliating against him for reporting a workplace injury, the department announced yesterday.

The railroad's actions against the worker have resulted in the largest punitive damages ever in a retaliation case under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, labor department officials said in a press release. A recent investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that the worker, who is employed as a coach cleaner for Metro-North, was retaliated against after reporting a knee injury he suffered on Nov. 17, 2011.

While driving the injured employee to the hospital, a Metro-North supervisor intimidated the worker, reportedly telling him 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, OSHA officials found. Other employees corroborated the supervisor's claims, they said.

The railroad issued disciplinary charges against the employee shortly after he filed the work-related injury. The employee then filed an initial Federal Railroad Safety Act anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA on April 19, 2012. An amended complaint was filed on April 9, 2013, after the railroad issued additional disciplinary charges against him.

"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," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. "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."

OSHA found that the employee engaged in protected activity when he reported the injury and filed his complaints with OSHA, that Metro-North knew these were protected activities, and that the protected activities were contributing factors in the railroad's subsequent disciplining of the employee.

In addition to the damages, OSHA ordered Metro-North to expunge the employee's record of all charges and disciplinary action. The railroad also must conduct training for all supervisors and managers on employee whistleblower rights.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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