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Osha Orders Union Pacific to Pay More Than $600k to Fired Workers

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Workers’ Compensation on Friday, August 26, 2011

Union Pacific Railroad was accused by the federal government of firing or suspending three employees, including two based in Kansas City, Missouri, as retaliation for reporting workplace injuries and commenting on unsafe work conditions. Following an investigation, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered the railroad company on Aug. 25 to pay the fired workers more than $615,000 in penalties, including $400,000 in punitive damages.

The two former Union Pacific employees from Kansas City were both conductors. They were fired or suspended without pay after trying to bring potential worker safety hazards to the company’s attention, OSHA said in a statement. One of the workers, a military veteran, allegedly was fired for reporting signs on the rail lines that were missing or covered up, as well as a safety violation committed by a supervisor during a field test. Repeated calls to a company hotline did not cause Union Pacific to act on the conductor’s reports. Instead, the company fired him, allegedly because his tattoo commemorating his military service created a hostile work environment.

The other Kansas City-based conductor called the company hotline to report rough spots on the tracks. OSHA found that Union Pacific suspended the conductor for five days without pay in retaliation instead of taking the potential workplace hazard seriously.

The third employee was fired after 32 years with the company after he was injured on the job and reported the injury to his superiors. Altogether, OSHA’s penalty includes more than $90,000 in back pay for the three workers, $90,315 in compensatory damages, $34,900 for attorney’s fees and $400,000 in punitive damages.

A Union Pacific spokesman said the company would appeal the order. He said that the decision to fire and discipline the workers was allowed under the collective bargaining agreements the rail company has with its engineers and conductors.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “OSHA cites UP for retaliating against workers,” Aug. 25, 2011

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