New Orleans riverboat company settles whistleblower case with OSHA
NEW ORLEANS, LA—The U.S. government has agreed to settle a whistleblower complaint brought against St. James Stevedoring Partners of New Orleans by a riverboat barge captain who was fired for reporting serious safety concerns to the U.S. Coast Guard, as required by law.
A Labor Department whistleblower investigator found that St. James Stevedoring fired the riverboat captain after he complained to the U.S. Coast Guard about an inoperable starboard vessel engine in June 2011. Federal regulations require riverboat captains to report inoperable engines to the Coast Guard, and failure to do so can jeopardize the captain’s license.
St. James Stevedoring suspended the captain after he notified the Coast Guard of the engine and warned him that he was not allowed to report problems to the Coast Guard without the company’s permission. The captain then worked under probation while company managers debated whether to terminate him.
In August 2011, the captain found an identical second incident and advised the company before reporting it to the Coast Guard. St. James Stevedoring terminated the captain as a result, alleging poor performance.
Federal investigators determined that the captain’s termination was an act of retaliation by his employer and a violation of the Seaman’s Protection Act. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) assumed jurisdiction over the whistleblower provisions of that act in 2010.
“Employees must feel free to exercise their rights under the law without fear of termination or retaliation by their employers,” said John M. Hermanson, OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas. “The Labor Department is committed to vigorously protecting the rights of all workers.”
According to the agreement, St. James Stevedoring Partners will pay a total of $245,000 in pay, compensation, and attorney’s fees – the largest financial settlement OSHA says it has made under whistleblower provisions of the Seaman’s Protection Act since it started administering those rules. The company also agreed to clear the captain’s personnel file of any wrongdoing involving the incidents and give prospective employers a neutral job reference.
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