A routine safety inspection at a New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) maintenance facility in Brooklyn resulted in $52,500 in federal fines and damages after an NYCTA supervisor misled state health inspectors and retaliated against an employee during the inspection.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), inspectors with the New York Public Employees Safety and Health Bureau (PESH) conducted a safety inspection of the Linden shop maintenance facility on Aug. 9, 2012.
At one point during the inspection, PESH inspectors asked about the working condition of a drill press. NYCTA supervisor Mark Ruggerio told the inspectors the drill press was not working, but an employee present at the time said that the machine was working and turned it on.
According to OSHA, “The supervisor then threatened the employee with a loss of overtime work. PESH inspectors informed Ruggerio that his behavior appeared to be retaliatory and he needed to stop. He did not.”
After the incident, the unnamed employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, which enforces the whistleblower protections of the federal National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA). The employee then transferred to another job within Linden shop maintenance facility, but contacted OSHA in July 2013 alleging his new supervisor was harassing him and causing other employees to “shun” him.
An OSHA investigation found the employee’s complaint had merit. The agency said the employee engaged in an activity protected by the NTSSA whistleblower statute when he took part in the safety inspection, filed his complaint, and shared his concerns with OSHA.
OSHA has ordered the transit authority to pay the employee $48,000 in punitive damages, $2,500 in compensatory damages, expunge the complainant’s employment records, and refrain from retaliating against him in the future. It also orders Mr. Ruggerio individually to pay the complainant $2,000 in punitive damages.
Additionally, OSHA ordered the NYC Transit Authority to provide all Linden Yards managers with OSHA whistleblower training and provide employees with information about OSHA jurisdiction and their whistleblower rights under NTSSA. OSHA investigators sounded an alarm over the disregard for safety at the transit authority’s facilities, concluding that “culture must change.”