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Whistleblower Law Blog

Recent Decisions Bring Focus to The Seaman’s Protection Act

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Currently, 25 federal laws protect whistleblowers in the workplaceThe Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA), enacted by Congress in 2010, ensures that seamen (and women) on vessels are protected from retaliation for disclosing safety violations in the work place.

While a lesser known that other whistleblower statues, the SPA prohibits retaliation against mariners for engaging in protected activities.  These protected activities include disclosures related to failure to comply with maritime safety laws and regulations, reporting maritime safety issues to the U.S. Coast Guard, and disclosing violations to any other federal agency.

Recent decisions highlight the protections and the limitations of the SPA.  In Joseph Dady v. Harley Marine Services, Dady, a marine pilot, reported to the U.S. Coast Guard Harley Marine Service’s practice of dumping raw sewage into the ocean.  He also reported repeated rudder failure and improper manning.  The illegal sewage spills sickened crew members.  Harley terminated Dady shortly after his internal disclosures and reports to the U.S. Coast Guard. While the Administrative Judge held that Dady had engaged in protected activity, he also held that Dady was unable to prove that his disclosures caused his termination.

In Devendra Gummala v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., the Complainant, Gummala, alleged that Carnival terminated him in retaliation for a safety complaint he made regarding a housekeeping hazard on a Carnival vessel.  Under the SPA, protections are afforded to “any individual engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel owned by a citizen of the United States.”  See 29 C.F.R. § 1986.101(m).  The Office of Administrative Law Judges, in dismissing Gummala’s complaint, held that the Board lacked jurisdiction because Carnival is a Panamanian Corporation.

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