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ARB Affirms Punitive Damages for Two Whistleblowers

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirmed judgments against two transportation companies that fired employees who had reported health and safety issues — confirming in each case that the violation was grievous enough to trigger punitive damages.

In separate decisions the ARB upheld payouts to whistleblowers under two different laws: A $100,000 award to a railroad employee, Raymond E. Griebel, under the Federal Rail Safety Act; and a $50,000 award to a truck driver, Robert Fink, under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

Both statutes forbid employers from punishing workers for reporting injuries or safety concerns. Companies are required to undo any harm they have caused to such workers — and both laws call for extra penalties if an employer has shown “reckless or callous disregard for the plaintiff’s rights, as well as intentional violations of federal law.”

In the cases of both Mr. Griebel and Mr. Fink, the ARB said there was plenty of evidence that their former employers — Union Pacific and R&L Transfer, respectively — met the standard for bad behavior.

  • In Griebel v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., an administrative law judge (ALJ) had found that Union Pacific fired Mr. Griebel under a pretext shortly after he reported an on-the-job injury. Upon review, the ARB found “substantial evidence” to uphold the punitive award, and rejected Union Pacific’s claims that the ALJ had made mistakes that invalidated the  verdict.
  • In Fink v. R&L Transfer, Inc., an ALJ had found that R&L acted illegally by firing Mr. Fink for refusing to drive a tractor-trailer in dangerous wintry weather. The judge ordered R&L to rehire Mr. Fink and pay him $150,000 plus attorneys’ fees — including $50,000 as punishment for showing “conscious disregard” for the law. Again, the ARB said there was “substantial evidence” to support the ruling.

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