Whistleblower Law Blog

OSHA Orders New Jersey Transit to Reinstate Rail Worker, Pay Punitive Damages

On April 6, 2010, OSHA ordered the New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJT) to reinstate a rail worker and pay him over $500,000 for retaliation he suffered as a result of missing work due to a job related illness.  In February 2008, the Complainant witnessed a contractor being electrocuted and burned to death after coming into contact with high voltage lines.  The Complainant fully cooperated in the ensuing investigation and was found not to be involved.  Shortly thereafter, the Complainant reported difficulty sleeping and emotional trauma.  The Complainant was ordered into an employee assistance program (EAP) and was diagnosed with anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.

Upon learning that the Complainant would miss work as a result of his illness, the Superintendent accused the Complainant of manipulating the EAP counselor and malingering.  The Superintendent also launched an investigation, accusing the Complainant of “violating electrical operating instructions.”  Later the Superintendent also stopped the Complainant’s EAP pay.  After approximately six months, the EAP counselor cleared the Complainant to return to work in October 2008.  However, NJT then suspended the Complainant without pay until February 2009 for safety violations.

While in the EAP, the Complainant filed a complaint with OSHA claiming NJT violated the Federal Rail Safety Act.  OSHA found that the temporal proximity between the reported illness and adverse employment actions is sufficient to prove that the NJT retaliated against the Complainant.  As a result, OSHA ordered NJT to reinstate the Complainant and pay him back pay.  He has also been awarded $5,000 for pain and suffering; $50,000 for damage to his credit; and over $350,000 for the loss of his car and home.  NTJ must also pay $75,000 in punitive damages due to “its reckless disregard for the law and complete indifference to the Complainant’s rights.”  The Complainant and NJT have 30 days to object and request a hearing before the Department of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

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