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Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has been ordered to pay a woman $300,000 for punishing her after she reported a workplace injury. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration handed down its ruling in the workplace retaliation case in mid-August 2011, and it includes compensation for lost wages, chronic pain and punitive damages.

According to the Seattle Times, the woman suffered a twisted knee while dismounting a train moving through a rail yard. After the accident, even though supervisors had been with her to the hospital, she "was placed on medical leave without pay, despite being told by doctors she could do limited work. Later, at a disciplinary hearing, she was suspended for 30 days without pay."

Another problem identified by OSHA is that railway kept a point system for employees who needed additional training. Becoming injured, by itself, was a reason supervisors assigned what amounted to points for inadequate job performance.

The unfairly treated woman filed her claim against BNSF under the provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. FRSA makes it a civil offense to fire or punish a rail employee for reporting an injury, illness or unsafe conditions. According to OSHA, the outcome of the "case sends a clear message that [the agency] will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers. Employees need to be able to report on-the-job injuries without fear of reprisal."

OSHA has issued several of these whistleblower/wrongful termination rulings against railroads during the summer of 2011. A major decision of particular interest to me, as a Virginia Beach, VA-based FELA and railroad injury attorney with offices just a few miles away from Norfolk Southern’s headquarters, was an award of $122,000 to an NS trackman who was fired after reporting on-the-job injuries.

Rail employees, like all other workers, have federal and state rights to protection from workplace retaliation. It is good to see OSHA actively enforcing those rights for train engineers, railroad trackmen, brakemen, conductors and other rail workers.


About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton 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.

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