The Utah Transit Authority has been ordered to reinstate and compensate a former employee it fired after he raised concerns about safety violations.
Michael Clara, who worked for the Utah Transit Authority as a transit planner, filed a complaint against the transit agency claiming he had been wrongfully terminated for voicing his concerns about alleged violations internally, the Associated Press reported.
On Aug. 13, U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Lee Romero Jr. ruled in Mr. Clara’s favor, saying the UTA “unlawfully discriminated against Mr. Clara.” The judge ordered the UTA to reinstate Mr. Clara to his former position and pay him back wages in addition to $10,000 in compensatory damages. Mr. Clara estimates the total to be about $300,000, according to the AP.
Federal whistleblower laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who report “protected activities,” such as raising concerns about safety, fraud, and other legitimate issues.
Mr. Clara said he raised concerns about several bus stops that were being built ahead of a November 2015 vote on transit taxes. He claimed that the UTA cut corners to hasten completion, adding amenities to the bus stops in an effort to generate public support for Prop I, the vote on higher transit taxes.
His whistleblower complaint alleged that UTA used federal funding for bus stops that weren’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates that all appropriate public works projects supported by U.S. funding be handicap accessible.
According to the AP, Mr. Clara also said his supervisors were upset with him for raising concerns that the UTA’s TRAX light rail crossings also failed to meet federal standards.
Although the judge ordered Mr. Clara’s reinstatement, Mr. Clara told the AP he has misgivings about going back to the UTA because of the culture the agency’s leaders maintain.
“The question for me is whom am I working for — because I am not going to go back and work for the same unethical people,” he told the AP. “They fabricated stuff in order to get rid of me. It’s concerning to me that kind of culture is there.”
The UTA said it is evaluating its options for an appeal.