How bad is the safety culture at the MBTA? So bad the Chief Safety Officer was terminated for demanding correction of critical safety issues. And had to file a whistleblower retaliation complaint to set things right.

The National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA) is a federal whistleblower protection statute that prohibits transit authorities such as the MBTA from retaliating in any way against employees who raise safety concerns and cooperate with safety investigations by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) or Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

In March 2019 my client Ron Nickle was the MBTA’s Chief Safety Officer. Under Federal safety regulations, the first duty of the Chief Safety Officer is to ensure the safety of the MBTA’s passengers and employees. And MBTA management is supposed to provide its CSO with the independent autonomy to do so.

On the morning of March 21st Ron Nickle met with the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, and State DPU to report on the results of his safety audits and inspections. He highlighted critical safety issues and discussed corrective actions to be taken.

The next morning the MBTA called him into a meeting and abruptly terminated him, giving no reason other than a desire “to move in a different direction.”

On June 27th Ron filed a NTSSA whistleblower complaint with OSHA’s Whistleblower Directorate office in Boston, claiming he was terminated due to management’s negative reaction to his safety activities, inviting as it did regulatory intervention and public scrutiny.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Directorate has served the MBTA with the Complaint and opened up a full investigation. OSHA has the power to enforce a spectrum of remedies against MBTA management, including reinstatement, make whole economic damages, punitive damages, and unlimited reputational damages. Ron will continue to cooperate with federal and state investigators in order to improve the safety of MBTA operations.

Here is the Boston Globe’s article on this developing case. For more on the whistleblower rights of transit and railroad employees, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.