An administrative law judge’s ruling in favor of a whistleblower who accused Pan Am Railways of retaliating against him after he reported being injured on the job was upheld on appeal.
The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ordered Pan Am Railways to pay $250,000 in punitive damages and an extra $10,000 for emotional distress to former employee Jason Raye of Waterville, Maine. Mr. Raye claimed that he stepped on a pile of railroad ties that he previously reported to his supervisor as a workplace hazard and that he injured his ankle in the accident.
According to CentralMaine.com, Mr. Raye missed a day of work because of his injury, which Pan Am was required to report to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Pan Am Railroad then set up a hearing to discuss the case. During the hearing, the railroad asserted that Mr. Raye had violated a safety rule by failing to observe ground conditions when stepping down.
After the hearing, Mr. Raye hired a lawyer who submitted a typed complaint to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which contained a slight discrepancy in the description of Mr. Raye’s fall in the accident. Pan Am seized on the discrepancy, called it “major,” and threatened to terminate him for making “false statements” about his injury.
Pan Am set up another hearing in which the company brought new charges against Mr. Raye and again threatened to fire him. Citing the First Circuit Court’s opinion, CentralMaine.com reported that “OSHA and the (administrative law judge) would later find that retaliation against Raye for filing the initial OSHA complaint was a contributing factor in Pan Am’s decision to bring new charges.”
And, while OSHA later rejected Mr. Raye’s allegation that Pan Am retaliated against him for reporting his injury or the safety hazard, it agreed that the railroad had unlawfully retaliated against him by bringing the second round of charges against him after he filed the original complaint.
An administrative law judge ruled in favor of Mr. Raye and awarded him the maximum amount allowable under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The appellate court later denied Pan Am’s motion for a review of the case, finding there was “substantial evidence” supporting the judge’s conclusion that the railroad “overstated the significance of the discrepancy” in the injury descriptions.
The court also noted that Pan Am appeared to have “a corporate culture more focused on retaliation than on safety.” That assertion was based partly on the judge’s finding that 99 percent of Pan Am worker injuries requiring a report to federal regulators led to the company taking disciplinary action against the worker.