A supervisory special agent working within the inspector general’s office of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, referred to colloquially as Amtrak, has been reinstated and awarded a hefty sum of over $892,000 by the railroad company after he was terminated for raising safety concerns about a contractor hired by Amtrak.
The contractor in question had been convicted in a New York court in 2010 for committing fraud in its examination and testing of concrete used in building projects in the area of New York City, and had been contracted to conduct similar tests on some Amtrak tunnel projects as well. The investigator, concerned about safety and security of the tunnel projects given this fact, raised safety concerns about the contractor.
Subsequently, in October of 2010, the investigator supported a fellow employee who had been reprimanded for raising his own series of concerns about the contractor. A month later, the investigator received a negative performance review – the first he had received in his career with Amtrak.
In March of 2011, the investigator learned that his position was being eliminated as part of an “overall reorganization” of the company. Despite applying for other positions within the company, he was given no new position and was notified in June of 2011 that his employment was officially terminated with Amtrak.
The investigator then filed a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who opened an investigation into the issue. OSHA found that Amtrak had violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which protects employees who report potential safety concerns from being wrongfully discharged, demoted, suspended or otherwise reprimanded as a result of sharing their concerns.
“In this case, an employee was terminated for pursuing and reporting safety concerns. The employer’s retaliation is unacceptable and illegal,” said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA’s acting New England regional administrator. “Federal law gives rail carrier employees the right to raise safety, health and security concerns with their supervisors without fear of retaliation. When retaliation occurs, it can have a chilling effect on employees and create a climate of silence where employees’ fear to speak up masks conditions that could impact their health and well-being, and that of their customers.”
OSHA has ordered Amtrak to do the following:
- Reinstate the employee to a similar position as was held before the termination with the same rights, seniority and benefits as before.
- Pay a total in $892,551 to the employee, comprised of $723,332 in back wages (plus $34,218 in interest), $100,000 in punitive damages, $35,000 in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
- Remove all references to the employee’s dismissal from Amtrak’s records and make no adverse statements concerning his employment at Amtrak.
- Post a notice to all railroad employees about their Federal Railroad Safety Act rights.
Employers cannot silence safety concerns
This case was open and shut for OSHA, since it involved clear evidence that an employee was directly reprimanded (and eventually terminated) for raising safety concerns about a contractor hired by their employer. Raising these safety concerns was not only the sensible thing to do for an investigator within the company, it was their federally-protected right as an employee dealing with issues of public safety.
Employers may never intimidate, reprimand, threaten, discriminate or terminate employees for raising legitimate safety concerns, or they are in direct violation of federal law.
If you or somebody you know has been discriminated, terminated or in any way negatively reprimanded after raising a safety concern at their place of employment, you have a legitimate case against that employer. Our legal team of professionals at Altman & Altman LLP have the decades of experience necessary to examine your case, work with federal agencies such as OSHA and get you the legal vindication you are entitled to.
We offer free consultations to hear the details of your case, and don’t collect any payment unless you are successful in a legal claim. Call us today at 617-492-3000 or toll-free at 800-481-6199. We are available 24/7.