Federal investigators have ordered Amtrak to reinstate a former employee and pay him nearly $900,000 in compensatory and punitive damages after determining he was wrongfully terminated for raising railroad safety concerns and supporting the safety concerns of a fellow agent.
In 2010, the employee, who worked as a special investigator in Amtrak’s inspector general’s office, was investigating an Amtrak contractor that had been convicted in a New York state court of fraud for its work inspecting and testing concrete in New York City building projects.
Knowing that the same contractor had performed testing for Amtrak on certain train tunnels, the agent raised concerns over the safety of these projects, strongly believing they posed safety and security risks.
The same year, the agent supported another Amtrak employee who had received a letter of reprimand after he raised safety concerns in a separate matter.
Shortly after, the agent received his first-ever negative performance review. In March 2011, Amtrak notified the agent that his position was being eliminated as part of an overall company restructuring. Over the next few months, the agent applied for other positions within Amtrak but was told he lacked the required law enforcement training, despite a law-enforcement career that spanned four decades and included the training the Amtrak position required.
Amtrak then terminated the agent when he was unable to secure a new position within the company, prompting him to file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA investigated the former Amtrak agent’s complaint and found the company had retaliated against an employee for engaging in activities protected by the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s whistleblower provisions.
OSHA ordered Amtrak to reinstate the employee to his former or a similar position with all rights, seniority, and benefits restored and clean his employment records of references to his discharge, make no adverse statements about his employment, and refrain from retaliating or discriminating against him in any manner.
The agency also ordered Amtrak to pay the former employee $892,551, including $723,332 in back wages and $34,218 in interest; $100,000 in punitive damages; $35,000 in compensatory damages; plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
“In this case, an employee was terminated for pursuing and reporting safety concerns. The employer’s retaliation is unacceptable and illegal. Federal law gives rail carrier employees the right to raise safety, health and security concerns with their supervisors without fear of retaliation,” said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA’s acting New England regional administrator.
“When retaliation occurs, it can have a chilling effect on employees and create a climate of silence where employees’ fear to speak up masks conditions that could impact their health and well-being, and that of their customers,” he added.