An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found that the Metro North Commuter Railroad Co. discriminated against an employee by classifying his on-the-job injury as not being work-related and denying him a promotion.
OSHA has ordered the railroad, which provides commuter rail service in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, to take corrective action by promoting the worker and paying him $125,000 in punitive damages, $5,000 in compensatory damages and $11,651 in legal and medical expenses. The railroad also must pay him the difference between his current rate of pay and that of the new position, plus interest, and correct its records to show his injury as work-related. Additionally, Metro North must post a notice to employees at all 120 of its stations of their protections under the Federal Railroad Safety Act as well as provide all employees with an FRSA fact sheet and information on reporting work-related injuries and illnesses.
"Metro North's policies and actions knowingly violate the employee protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and may deter employees from reporting on-the-job injuries for fear of financial or career consequences," said Marthe Kent, OSHA's New England regional administrator in Boston. "The railroad's blatant disregard for its employees' rights and its refusal to cooperate with our investigation warrant these significant punitive damages, which are the highest ordered to date by OSHA in a FRSA-related discrimination investigation."
The worker filed a complaint with OSHA in October 2008 after Metro North classified his July 2008 injury as not work-related even though it occurred on the job, which forced him to pay out of pocket for injury-related medical expenses. Metro North notified the worker in November 2008 that he was not selected for a promotion for which he had previously applied. That decision was based in part on the worker's injury record, which should not have been considered in evaluating the promotion request. OSHA's investigation determined that both the injury misclassification and the promotion denial constituted discrimination against the worker.
Metro North and the complainant each have 30 days from receipt of the findings to file an appeal with the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. Under the FRSA, employees of a railroad carrier and its contractors and subcontractors are protected against retaliation for reporting on-the-job injuries, reporting certain safety and security violations, and cooperating with investigations by OSHA and other regulatory agencies.
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