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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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OSHA Fines Suburban Chicago Commuter Rail Operator, Metra, For Wrongful Termination

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Our firm has discussed several troubling episodes recently involving railroad companies that have used wrongfully retaliated against or terminated employees for raising safety concerns. Thankfully, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has caught on to the companies’ misbehavior and has handed down several important rulings against railroad companies over the last few months.

In a recent press release, OSHA announced another troubling railroad industry violation, this time by the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation. The agency announced that the commuter rail operator would be fined for violating the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

The railroad company, known as Metra, is accused of firing a worker for raising a safety issue. OSHA’s investigation found that Metra changed the worker’s hours and ultimately eliminated his position after he filed a safety complaint with the Secretary of Labor. The worker, a signalman, had spent 22 years with Metra before having his hours cut and his job taken from him. The retaliation was all because the signalman reported that certain signal routes had not been tested properly.

Once Metra became aware of his complaint, the man’s superiors retaliated against him by reducing his ability to work and claim overtime pay and eventually eliminated his job entirely. OSHA’s investigation revealed that the man’s decision to report the safety issue was the sole basis for the retaliatory actions by Metra and that Metra never even bothered to invent a pretext for its actions.

OSHA concluded its report by ordering Metra to pay the signalman nearly $40,000 in lost overtime as well as interest, compensatory damages and attorney’s fees. A press release by OSHA underlined the fact that railroads do not have the right to retaliate against employees whose only mistake was in reporting dangerous safety issues.

Such retaliatory behavior makes it less likely that employees will report potential hazards in the future. This raises concerns not only about worker safety, but, given that Metra is a major metropolitan commercial carrier, also raises concerns about passenger safety. OSHA should be congratulated for seriously enforcing the Railroad Safety Act and pushing back against employers that wrongfully terminate quality workers.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.