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Safety whistleblower’s lawsuit against railroad reinstated

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An appeals court has reversed a decision granting summary judgment to CSX Transportation Inc. in a lawsuit filed by an employee who said his employer retaliated against him for reporting safety concerns.

Evard DeMott sued Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX under the Federal Railroad Safety Act alleging that CSX retaliated against him for engaging in protected activity, according to the ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Evard DeMott v. CSX Transportation Inc.-Baltimore Division.

CSX disciplined him for leaving a locomotive unattended with a control switch left in the on position, speeding, failing to report a problem with a speed indicator, allowing another employee to calibrate that speed indicator and being insubordinate, according to court documents. However, Mr. DeMott contended he was actually disciplined in retaliation for reporting various unsafe workplace conditions, publishing a safety bulletin and filing a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for enforcing the whistleblower protection provisions of 22 federal statutes.

The U.S. District Court in what Baltimore granted summary judgment in favor of CSX, but Mr. DeMott appealed, arguing that the District Court employed the wrong legal standard in granting summary judgment, erred in concluding that the relevant decision-makers had no knowledge of his protected activities and impermissibly required him to submit proof of disparate treatment.

“DeMott undoubtedly engaged in protected activities when he filed safety reports,” a unanimous three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit said in vacating the District Court’s decision and remanding the case for further proceedings on Monday. “Contrary to the district court’s finding, we conclude that DeMott adequately demonstrated that the relevant decision-makers were aware of his protected activities.”

The appeals court said it was undisputed that CSX subjected Mr. DeMott to unfavorable personnel action and concluded that he established that his protected activities were a contributing factor to the unfavorable personnel action. The court also found that he was charged with a rules violation shortly after filing complaints, which it found to be “strong evidence of retaliatory animus,” and that there was evidence that CSX managers targeted Mr. DeMott and other union members.

A company spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.