September 3, 2013

Pan Am Railways ordered to pay Maine worker $50K

Morning Sentinel staff report

WATERVILLE — The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered Pan Am Railways Inc. to pay $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, as well as take corrective action, on behalf of an injured Waterville worker.

click image to enlarge

In this July 2013 file photo, a Pan Am Railways train passes under the Danforth Street Bridge at Cassidy Point in Portland. The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered Pan Am Railways to pay $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages to an injured Waterville worker.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

According to a news release from the Department of Labor, the North Billerica, Mass.-based commercial railroad 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.

The employee, who works in a 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 that the employee engaged in protected activity when filing the complaint, and the railroad took retaliatory action by charging him with lying and by holding the second disciplinary hearing. Such adverse action can intimidate employees from exercising their FRSA rights, even if the charge is later dropped, as it was in this case.

“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.”

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