PORTLAND, Maine — A federal jury Thursday awarded a former Springfield Terminal Railway Co. worker $400,000 in damages after finding Jason Worcester was fired illegally because he filed a safety complaint about a supervisor’s decision to have an untrained worker clean up a chemical spill in North Yarmouth nearly three years ago.
The jury awarded Worcester, 38, of Portland, $150,000 in back wages and benefits and $250,000 in punitive damages following a four-day trial presided over by U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen, according to information filed on the court’s electronic case filing system.
The incident that led to Worcester’s firing occurred on Oct. 7, 2011, during the cleanup of 20 gallons of hydraulic fuel that spilled the previous day on the railroad bed at Elm Street in North Yarmouth, according to court documents. Worcester claimed in his lawsuit filed in January 2013 that he expressed concern to a Maine Department of Environmental Protection employee on site about the “nature and safety of the work being performed.”
Worcester, who worked as a signal foreman for the North Billerica, Massachusetts, railroad, was fired Nov. 28, 2011, for “inquiring into the safety of environmental cleanup work assigned by another department to a worker under the [railroad’s] supervision who had eight hours of training and less than three months on the job,” attorney Marc Wietzke of Garden City, New Jersey, wrote in his pretrial memorandum.
The railroad maintained in its trial brief that Worcester was insubordinate when he “made a unilateral, unsupported and unauthorized determination that employees under his supervision in the signal department would not participate in certain emergency activities” which were ordered by supervisors in a different department.
Worcester’s actions on Oct. 7, 2011, were “political and ideological,” the brief said.
Bangor attorney Glen Porter, who represents the railroad along with Megan Randlett, declined to comment on the verdict.
Worcester now works for a union that represents railroad workers, his attorney said Tuesday in a telephone interview. Technically, he is on leave from his job with Springfield Terminal after the National Labor Relations Board overturned his dismissal and ordered that he be reinstated last year.
“When the verdict was announced, it was like he’d finally been vindicated,” Wietzke and Tuesday. “He said, ‘I can’t wait to use myself as an example to say it’s OK to stand up for safety but, sometimes, you have to be willing to take on the legal fight.”