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Railroad ordered to pay damages to suspended safety whistleblower

Railroad ordered to pay damages to suspended safety whistleblower

CSX Transportation Inc. retaliated against an employee reporting safety hazards and violations and must pay $32,735 in punitive damages and attorney's fees, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Jacksonville, Florida-based commercial rail carrier violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act by imposing a five-day suspension in December 2013 against an employee at its Selkirk, New York, facility for an alleged safety infraction, the agency said Thursday in a statement. The suspension was imposed after the employee provided the plant superintendent with a letter detailing alleged safety violations and his union's intention to withdraw its support of the facility's safety committee because of the violations, according to the release.

The employee filed a complaint with OSHA in March 2014, and the agency's investigation found merit in the complaint, with OSHA ordering CSX to pay the employee $27,735 in attorney's fees and $5,000 in punitive damages, expunge the employee's employment records of his suspension and his exercise of his rights under the legislation, and to not retaliate or discriminate against the employee in any manner for his actions under the act.

The agency also ordered CSX to have all managers at its Selkirk facility receive OSHA-provided training on the legislation and the rights it provides to their employees, to train all new hires on the legislation and employee rights, and to immediately post a notice to all employees of their rights under the legislation in the workplace and electronically.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the legislation and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations.

“While CSX subsequently reversed the suspension, it was an adverse action that never should have happened in the first place,” Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York, said in the statement. “This worker was clearly doing his duty, alerting management to employees' safety concerns. The company's retaliation needlessly cost him time, money and distress.”

“CSX has an established policy that is widely communicated in our company that we do not tolerate harassment in any form,” the company said in a statement. “CSX is aware of this decision and we are reviewing it to determine what our next steps might be.”

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