In a decision dated May 11, 2020, a federal administrative law judge awarded more than $200,000 to an employee represented by The Myers Firm in a case brought pursuant to the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Rail Safety Act.
The Myers Firm brought the case after the employee, a shop steward, claimed retaliation for sticking up for a co-worker’s overtime rights and for earlier reporting a safety concern to the EEOC. Following a verbal dispute between the employee and his foreman, the foreman announced to the shop that he was cancelling overtime for everyone on his shift. The next day, Amtrak police publicly escorted the employee to the management building.
In a hearing that lasted two days, The Myers Firm attorneys presented the testimony of the employee and a co-worker, and then cross-examined the general foreman and the assistant superintendent of the Bear Facility.
In the administrative law judge’s opinion, the judge found that the foreman’s actions in publicly canceling overtime were retaliatory and done with the intent to harass and humiliate the employee, and to undermine his authority as a union representative, and constituted discriminatory harassment
Addressing the employee’s EEOC complaint, which was not kept confidential by management, the administrative law judge found that, “The culture of Amtrak does not serve to protect the anonymity of potential complainants,” and in fact, “The record establishes that it is part of Amtrak’s culture to recklessly disregard a complainant’s privacy when he or she engages in protected activity or other confidential reporting.”
As to Amtrak police escorting the employee to the management building the day after the employee, acting as a union official, advocated for a co-worker, the administrative law judge wrote that, “Other workers observing Complainant escorted by the police the following morning to a meeting with managers would definitely have a chilling effect over other workers. Employees may become fearful that by engaging in protected activity (reporting a safety complaint) or contacting their union representatives about workplace issues, they too could end up escorted about the worksite by an armed officer. Workers would then choose to forego making any complaint or speaking up out of fear of the consequences.”
To punish Amtrak for its conduct in the case, the administrative law judge hit Amtrak with $35,000 in punitive damages. The judge also awarded the employee with the following amounts:
- Lost wages in the amount of $83,739.00 for lost straight-line wages, $15,699.00 for lost overtime wages, and $2,381.00 in lost pay differential wages, for a total amount of $101,819.60 in lost wages.
- Reimbursement of the employee’s out-of-pocket medical expenses ($207.56 for medication and $820.00 for doctor’s bills) for a total amount of $1,027.56.
- Reimbursement of Railroad Retirement Board and AETNA liens in the amount of $42,743.56.
- Emotional distress damages of $20,000.00.
The administrative law judge’s opinion also orders Amtrak to pay the employee’s litigation costs and attorney’s fees.