Monday, December 9, 2013
By Doug Harlow email@example.com
WATERVILLE — Pan Am Railways Inc. will appeal a U.S. Department of Labor order to pay $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of an injured Waterville worker.
The order from the Department of Labor, announced Tuesday, states the North Billerica, Mass.-based commercial railroad adversely charged the worker, who was not identified, with lying when he filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act complaint with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Employers must understand that their employees have a legal right to file a whistle-blower 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.”
Pam Am Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano said Tuesday that it was not the railroad’s handling of the initial injury complaint that drew the sanctions, but the fact that the company felt there were two different set of facts being presented.
“Pam Am takes employee safety very seriously,” Scarano said. “We will be appealing that decision.”
The employee, who worked in the rail yard in Waterville, filed an OSHA complaint on Dec. 6, 2011, claiming that the railroad had subjected him to disciplinary action earlier, including a letter of reprimand, for reporting an injury and unsafe working conditions.
Shortly after the filing, Pan Am Railways held a second disciplinary hearing on Jan. 4, 2012.
It alleged then that the worker made false statements to OSHA and the railroad. OSHA found the railroad’s actions were retaliatory when it charged him with lying and by holding the second disciplinary hearing.
“Such adverse action can intimidate employees from exercising their federal safety rights, even if the charge is later dropped, as it was in this case,” the Department of Labor said in a release Tuesday.
It was that second hearing, in January 2012, with which OSHA had a problem, Scarano said. She would not discuss the nature of the injury or identify the employee.
The employee made the initial complaint about procedures that were followed under to the Railway Labor Act, Scarano said Tuesday. A hearing was called with the employee, but Scarano said the railroad thought some of the facts had changed from the original complaint, and it called for a second hearing.
“In the second hearing there was no discipline taken, but OSHA felt as though we did not have the right to have that second hearing,” she said.
Scarano said it was not the injury and the railroad’s handling of the complaint that caused the problem with OSHA; it was the challenge of the facts in the case and the calling of the second hearing.
“When we tried to establish whether or not the employee had given us correct facts in the hearing or if the OSHA submittal was correct. There were two different sets of facts. That’s where the problem was,” she said.
Scarano said the railroad’s lawyers will handle the appeal. She said she couldn’t say which part of the Department of Labor order will be challenged. She said the $50,000 in damages appears to be high, given the facts of the case.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367