Once again, OSHA has slammed Metro North Railroad with punitive damages for disregarding the Federal Rail Safety Act rights of its employees. This time it is for using prior injuries to deny promotions, and the resulting punitive damage award is $125,000.

Like many railroads, Metro North has a policy and practice of considering an employee’s history of reporting injuries when evaluating that employee for a promotion. Here, ironworker Bill Ordner passed all the hurdles for a locomotive engineer job, but then, after the final background check phase, was handed a letter denying him the promotion with no explanation. He had reported injuries within the prior three years, and when Metro North refused to provide OSHA’s Whistleblower Office with the information on which the denial was based, OSHA drew a negative inference against Metro North and concluded that Ordner’s reporting of injuries was a contributing factor in Metro North’s denial of the promotion.

Here are OSHA’s words of warning to railroads nationwide:

Metro North automatically assigns points to an employee’s personnel record, thereby subjecting the employee to other adverse consequences such as disqualification for promotion or craft transfer, solely for lawfully reporting a work-related injury. Metro North’s enforcement of this policy, to the extent that it punishes employees for reporting work-related injuries, on its face violates FRSA. Such practices produce a chilling effect on reporting injuries in the workplace, jeopardizing employee safety. Furthermore, Metro North’s refusal to provide OSHA with certain documents requested during this investigation is consistent with its conduct in past investigations. Metro North’s pattern of refusal to provide OSHA with requested information during FRSA investigations demonstrates willful disregard for the law and the rights of its employees.

OSHA’s make whole remedies include: ordering the Railroad to promote Ordner to the position of locomotive engineer with a seniority date of November 24, 2008 and full back pay; $125,000 in punitive damages; another $15,000 in emotional distress and attorney’s fees; and the posting of the FRSA Notice to Employees in all 120 stations on the Railroad.

When will railroads learn that the FRSA has made the reporting of injuries a neutral, penalty-free event? Here is the full text of the Ordner v. Metro North Railroad Merit Finding.