Ridge & Downes - Law Firm

  • Fired for Reporting Track Defects

    A veteran track inspector has recently filed suit against the BNSF Railroad alleging that they fired him for reporting a dangerous major defect in its tracks — in violation of a rail-safety law enacted by Congress. Congress amended the Federal Railroad Safety Act in 2008, after public hearings “which demonstrated that railroads have a financial incentive to discourage employees from reporting safety concerns and that they frequently act on such incentive by disparately applying vague workplace rules against employees who report safety concerns.”

    In the federal lawsuit filed on April 5, 2017, it is alleged that “BNSF ensures its supervisors have a personal motive to discourage employees from reporting safety concerns by maintaining an incentive compensation plan whereby it pays its managers a yearly bonus based, in part, on productivity.” The amended Railroad Safety Act gave railroad employees the right to sue their employers in Federal Court, and added protections for whistleblower retaliation.

    It is alleged in the federal complaint that the track inspector told his supervisor in June 2015 that he had found a major defect, and that the tracks had to be “taken out of service.” In response, the supervisor texted the track inspector: “Don’t do it.” As alleged in the complaint, later that day, the supervisor told him: “If you continue to do this, you know what will happen.”  The fired track inspector is seeking reinstatement, lost wages, expungement of his record, damages for violations of the Railway Safety Act, damages for emotional distress and punitive damages.

    Ridge & Downes is dedicated to using the legal tools provided by Congress, such as the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 2008, to protect workers from workplace harassment and retaliation.    


  • Safety Is No Accident

    safetyisnoaccidentOn December 30, 2013, a BNSF train derailment caused 476,000 gallons of crude oil to spill and ignite near the town of Casselton, North Dakota. There were no fatalities or serious injuries but 1,500 people were evacuated from their homes.

    Recently the National Transporatation Safety Board determined that the cause of the derailment was due to a broken axle to one of the tanker cars. NTSB investigators found a void in the middle of the axle which was used previously on another railcar. As a result of this investigation, the NTSB now requires more stringent testing of these secondhand-use railcars such as the railcar involved in this derailment. Safety is no accident.


  • Whistleblower Retaliation

    whistleblowerIn the continuing crusade of Designated Legal Counsel like Ridge & Downes to protect workers’ rights, today we address the “culture of retaliation” on the Railroad. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) protects workers who report workplace safety concerns and workplace injuries.

    In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor ordered Union Pacific Railroad Co., headquartered in Omaha, to pay a total of $400,000 in punitive damages, $90,315 in compensatory damages, $34,900 in attorney fees and more than $90,000 in back wages to three employees.1 Investigations by OSHA determined that the company violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act by terminating two employees and suspending one in retaliation for reporting workplace safety concerns and a work-related injury.

    “Workers have the right to report work-related injuries and safety concerns without fear of retaliation,” said Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “Union Pacific Railroad has created a climate of fear instead of a climate of safety. The company must take immediate steps to change this unacceptable pattern of retaliation.” Since 2001, the Omaha-based railway, which operates in 23 states, has faced more than 200 whistleblower complaints nationwide, the Labor Department said.2

    In addition to requiring payments be made to the affected employees, the department has ordered Union Pacific Railroad to provide training on whistleblower rights to its managers, supervisors and employees, and to notify employees of their rights to be able to file complaints without fear of retaliation under the FRSA.

    OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws. Under these laws enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.  

    Ridge & Downes represents the rights of workers who have had their whistleblower protection violated by railroads and other employers. Give us a call for a free legal consultation.


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