The first Federal Rail Safety Act complaint against the Port Authority Trans-Hudson railroad has resulted in an award of punitive damages. The fact pattern is familiar to any railroad worker.
Laura, a Signal Tester, was injured on duty due to defective equipment, and duly reported her injury. But instead of using the incident as an opportunity to identify and correct the root cause of the safety hazard (namely, why the railroad allowed the defective equipment to remain in use), PATH’s Superintendent sent her a disciplinary charge letter alleging the injury was solely her fault. A typical "blame the victim and ignore the systemic cause" reaction by rail management that happens every day on railroads across the nation, and is a major reason why safety hazards persist.
But things have changed. The FRSA is in effect now, and with my help Laura stood up for her FRSA right to be protected from such retaliatory action. OSHA conducted a thorough investigation, and found that no one else was charged with any safety violations for allowing the defective equipment to remain in use, and that the Railroad could have investigated the circumstances of the incident without ordering the injured employee to face a disciplinary hearing. OSHA concluded that if Laura had not reported an injury, no charge letter would have been sent.
What is interesting here is that Laura did not actually attend any disciplinary hearing or suffer any discipline. She just received an initial charge letter. And OSHA ruled such conduct is a violation of the FRSA that must be remedied. To make Laura whole, OSHA ordered PATH to expunge her disciplinary records and pay punitive damages and attorney fees. Of particular interest is the empowering NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES the Railroad must post on all of its bulletin boards.
So here’s to Laura! By standing up for her FRSA rights she is at the forefront of a grass roots movement of workers acting to correct the imbalance of power between rail labor and management.