By: Willard J. Moody, Jr., Esquire, UTU Designated Legal Counsel
The Moody Law Firm, Inc.
For decades railroad workers’ only protection against railroad harassment and discipline for reporting injuries and filing complaints about unsafe conditions was appeals to the Public Law Board. On many occasions, this remedy was insufficient to protect railroad workers against the railroad’s harassing and retaliatory conduct when employees reported injuries or safety-related matters. With the passage of the new “whistle-blower” provisions of the Federal Railway Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20109, railroad workers now have a new remedy that actually has some teeth to it. This new federal law, enacted in August 2007, is intended to give railroad employees a new forum to file an action against railroads that are guilty of taking adverse action against an employee for reporting safety-related matters. Now federal law provides you with a very real legal remedy against carriers for this conduct.
The new law provides that a railroad may not “discharge, demote, suspend, reprimand, or in any other way discriminate against an employee” if the employee:
- Provides information or assists with an investigation regarding conduct which the employee believes constitutes a violation of federal laws, rules or regulations related to railroad safety;
- Refuses to violate or assist in the violation of federal laws, rules or regulations regarding railroad safety;
- Files a complaint under the FELA for personal injury or other rail safety laws;
- Notifies the railroad of a work-related personal injury or illness;
- Cooperates with federal authorities investigating safety-related matters;
- Furnishes information to federal, state or local authorities regarding any accident or incident causing injury or death to an individual.
The new legislation also protects employees from adverse action by the railroad if they, in good faith, are refusing to work when confronted with hazardous safety or security conditions, as long as certain threshold actions are taken before refusal. These broad new federal laws provide sweeping protection which never before existed for railroad workers and also provides remedies above and beyond those previously available.
If a railroad takes adverse action prohibited by the new legislation, a railroad worker must file his complaint with the Department of Labor within 180 days after the alleged violation. If the Secretary of Labor fails to render a decision within 210 days of the filing of the complaint, then the employee may bring a separate action in federal court and obtain a jury trial.
The damages provided by the legislation include “all relief necessary to make the employee whole”. These damages include:
- Reinstatement with the same seniority;
- Back pay with interest;
- Compensatory damages, including litigation costs, expert witness fees and reasonable attorney’s fees;
- Punitive damages in an amount not to exceed $250,000.00
This new legislation not only provides a new forum for railroad workers to seek protection for retaliatory action by the railroad, but also provides never before allowed relief in the form of the potential of a jury trial and punitive damages. With this new legislation, no railroad worker should be afraid or reluctant to file a report of injury or pursue his remedy under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. The law firm of Moody, Strople, Kloeppel & Higginbotham, Inc. has proudly served the legal needs of railroad workers and their families for over 50 years in the southeastern United States. For additional information or legal assistance, please contact The Moody Law Firm, Inc. at 1-800-368-1033 or visit our website at www.moodyrrlaw.com.
We are trial attorneys, and we will fight for you! Put The Moody Law Firm, Inc. to work for you today by calling us to arrange a free consultation.