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Whistleblower awarded more than $1 million in damages

Connecticut railway workers are protected as whistleblowers by the Federal Rail Safety Act. A man was awarded $250,000 in punitive damages and $800,000 for emotional distress by a Colorado court on February 19 after he filed a whistleblower retaliation claim against his employer, BNSF Railway Company.

The man was a track inspector who discovered that tracks were being put back into service before their defects were fixed. When he confronted one of the supervisors responsible, the person threatened him with termination. Later, he told a supervisor to stop writing false track defect reports. This resulted in an altercation between the two about which each person provided different accounts and ended with the man's termination.

First, the man appealed the termination. In arbitration, the termination was upheld. Next, he filed an FRSA whistleblower claim with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA found reasonable cause that his whistleblower protection was violated, but the company appealed the decision. The employee then took the claim to federal court, where a judge ruled that he had engaged in protected conduct that was a factor in his termination. The court also found that the company did not sufficiently investigate the employee's claims of retaliation even though the supervisor had retaliated against employees in the past. Ultimately, the case demonstrated the extent of protection railway employees have under whistleblower laws.

Some railway workers may be unsure as to what exactly counts as protected activity. Employees who are in a dispute with their railway employers or anticipate one might want to consult an attorney about those rights and the time limits for filing a claim. A lawyer might also assist in a strategy for dealing with an escalating an issue at work and then with OSHA or within the legal system if necessary.

Source: National Law Review, "Jury Awards Track Inspector Whistleblower $1.05M in Damages," Jason Zuckerman, February 24, 2019

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