A $1.15 Million SPA Whistleblower Settlement

It took four long years, but a full measure of justice has come to my client Captain John Loftus. John was the Captain of a 850 foot long container ship who took safety seriously. After his employer ignored his internal reports of unsafe conditions, John went outside to the American Bureau of Shipping and Coast Guard, who forced Horizon Lines to correct the conditions. Horizon then found a pretext to fire John from his Master position. Both the Administrative Law trial Judge and the Administrative Review Board appeals judges ruled in his favor, ordering over $1.15 million in back pay, emotional distress, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs. John refused to compromise, ultimately forcing the Company to pay the full $1.15 million, with no confidentiality. So hats off  to John for insisting on clearing his reputation while being made whole.

ARB Confirms SPA Covers Internal Safety Complaints

The Seaman’s Protection Act prohibits retaliation against any seaman who reports a work related injury or reports to the U.S. Coast Guard or American Bureau of Shipping “that a violation of a maritime safety law or regulation has occurred.”

It also protects merchant mariners who “testified in a proceeding brought to enforce a maritime safety law or regulation.” But how broad is the scope of such a “proceeding”? The Administrative Review Board confirms it is broad enough to include purely internal safety complaints:

The Board has interpreted “proceedings” under other whistleblower statutes we administer as covering safety complaints to the employer. . . .protected activity includes “bringing a proceeding” or having “testified in such a proceeding”, which the Board has interpreted to cover internal complaints to an employer.

Meeks v. Genesis Marine, LLC. Thus, to be protected from retaliation, seamen need not necessarily escalate their safety complaints to outside agencies. And OSHA’s Seaman Protection Act Fact Sheet  now confirms it is protected activity under the SPA to make “an internal complaint, such as to a master, captain, or other supervisor, relating to a violation of maritime safety law or regulation.”

For more on the standards applicable to whistleblower laws such as the Seaman Protection Act, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.