A North Carolina-based trucking company has been ordered to pay more than $1,070,000 in back wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages to four truck drivers who alleged they were fired in violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act’s (STAA) whistleblower protection provisions, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said.
According to the whistleblower complaint, Gaines Motor Lines Inc. allegedly fired the four drivers after they participated in a safety inspection audit of the company’s facility in Hickory, N.C. The inspection was conducted by the Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency that regulates the nation’s commercial motor carrier and bus companies.
During the inspection, which took place Feb. 28 through March 1, 2012, FMCSA regulators interviewed the four drivers on-site. Following the audit, which resulted in citations against Gaines Motor Lines and its principals Tim Gaines and Rick Tompkins, the four employee drivers experienced retaliation, including layoffs, removal of employee benefits, and termination of employment.
Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said that workers in the commercial trucking industry must be able to raise safety concerns to federal officials “without fear of retaliation.”
“Participating in an on-site inspection helps to ensure safer conditions for truck drivers and vehicles on the road. Employers undermining these protections through intimidation and adverse conduct will not be tolerated,” Dr. Michaels added.
OSHA’s order mandates reinstatement of three of the four drivers (one of the drivers died earlier this year), back wages, interest, compensatory damages of $215,657 and punitive damages of $675,000.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 21 other statutes that protect employees who report violations in various industries, including airline, trucking, rail, maritime securities, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, health care, food, and several others.