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Despicable Conduct -- Metro North Supervisor Retaliates for Worker's Reporting of an Injury

In a truly awful story, the Journal News is reporting that a month after one federal agency criticized Metro-North for not encouraging employees to report safety issues, another federal agency has ordered the commuter railroad to pay $260,000 in damages for retaliating against a worker who reported an on-the-job injury. 

According to the article, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered Metro-North to pay $10,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages to the employee, who cleans railroad cars. It also ordered the railroad to reimburse the employee's attorney's fees. The damages, described as a record amount, were awarded under the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

The Connecticut-based cleaning employee, who has not been identified, reported an on-the-job knee injury in November 2011. A supervisor who drove the employee to a hospital for treatment told the employee that workers who report on-the-job injuries are reported for safety violations and not considered for promotions.

The railroad subsequently initiated a disciplinary proceeding against the injured employee.

The employee filed an anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA in April 2012 and an amended complaint 12 months later, after the railroad filed additional disciplinary charges.

OSHA's investigation found evidence of a workplace culture that discouraged employees from reporting on-the-job injuries.

"For instance, one worker smashed her foot with a barrel while on the job, yet she did not file an accident report and showed up to work every day using crutches in hope of keeping her injury record clean,'' OSHA said in a press statement. "Another worker was injured when her hand was caught in a broken door but, like her coworker, she did not fill out an incident report for fear of reprisal.''

Metro-North spokesman Aaron Donovan told the Associated Press Tuesday the railroad has made strides since 2011 to promote a culture that encourages employees to report safety concerns without fear of retaliation.

However, the National Transportation Safety Board last month criticized Metro-North's safety programs after looking into five accidents involving the railroad between May 2013 and March 2014 that resulted in six deaths and 126 injuries.

The NTSB special investigation found that "Metro-North did not effectively investigate accidents and incidents to identify and fix safety deficiencies. In addition, known deficiencies were not corrected.''

OSHA reached similar conclusions.

"When employees, fearing retaliation, hesitate to report work-related injuries and the safety hazards that caused them, companies cannot fix safety problems and neither employees nor the public are safe," David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a statement. "In this case, Metro-North's conduct was deliberate and discriminatory, and we have assessed the maximum amount in punitive damages allowed under the law."

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Tuesday that Metro-North's conduct of "sweeping serious injuries under the rug and retaliating against its own employees'' were "egregious violations that placed both workers and passengers at grave risk.''

"Top-to-bottom reform to establish a true culture of safety must be an immediate priority," he said.

In my experience, retaliation for reporting injuries is the rule and not the exception. Almost everytime a worker is injured, they tell us how they are worried about how the injury will affect their standing with their employer and their union.  Its horrible and I'm glad at least one employer got caught and now is being punished.  

If you an injury at work, please call us to discuss your legal rights.   

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