WATERVILLE, Maine — The Department of Labor has ordered Pan Am Railways Inc. to pay $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to an injured worker, according to an announcement Tuesday from the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA said Pan Am retaliated against the employee and accused him of lying when he filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act complaint.
On Dec. 6, 2011, the employee, who works in a rail yard in Waterville, filed a complaint with OSHA. He claimed that Pan Am had subjected him to disciplinary action for reporting an injury and unsafe working conditions. The Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
After the filing on Dec. 6, 2011, a second disciplinary hearing was held on Jan. 4, 2012, where Pan Am Railways alleged the employee made false statements to OSHA and the railroad.
“OSHA found that the employee engaged in protected activity when filing the complaint, and the railroad took retaliatory action by charging him with lying and by holding the second disciplinary hearing,” OSHA said in a statement released on Tuesday. “Such adverse action can intimidate employees from exercising their FRSA rights, even if the charge is later dropped, as it was in this case.”
“Employers must understand that their employees have a legal right to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA without fear of retaliation,” said Marthe Kent, OSHA’s New England regional administrator. “Responding to an employee’s complaint with threats of disciplinary action is not acceptable and prohibited by law.”
Pan Am Railways was also ordered to take corrective action, OSHA said. It must expunge all files and computerized data systems of disciplinary actions and references to the hearing notice and January trial. Pan Am must also post notices about its FRSA whistleblower rights at all its Maine locations and internal website.
OSHA also ordered Pan Am to pay reasonable attorney’s fees and compensate the employee for wages and benefits lost due to attending the January disciplinary hearing, according to the release.
Pan Am Railways is based in North Billerica, Mass.