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OSHA Orders Burlington Northern to Pay Whistle-Blower $300,000

The agency said railroad managers followed the employee to the hospital and received an injury report, but later accused the worker of failing to furnish adequate information about the injury.

August 23, 2011
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The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has ordered the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. to pay $300,000 to a suspended whistle-blower employee.

OSHA’s Seattle office said it ordered the Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad to pay the worker, whom under its policy it did not identify, more than $300,000 in back wages, compensatory damages, attorney fees and punitive damages.

The railroad’s attorneys, Richard Lentini and James Shaker, members of law firm Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland in Cleveland, identified the worker as Jeanette Wallis.

According to OSHA, the worker filed a complaint with the agency stating she was suspended without pay for 30 days after notifying the company of a work-related injury that occurred on Nov. 16, 2008. OSHA’s investigation substantiated the allegation and found “reasonable cause” to believe that the worker was retaliated against in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s whistle-blower protection provisions, the agency said in a written statement.

OSHA said railroad managers followed the employee to the hospital and received an injury report, but later accused the worker of failing to furnish adequate information about the injury.

The railroad responded to the OSHA release with a copy of an Aug. 20, 2010, letter by the railroad’s lawyers to OSHA’s regional supervisory investigator in Seattle, Victoria Coleman, stating that there were “critical inaccuracies” in the information OSHA provided to the firm.

It said the railroad does not have a policy calling for the suspension or discipline of employees who have been injured, it does not deny promotion or transfers because of injuries, and its employee review process does not assign points to an employee because they are injured regardless of fault.

Wallis “was disciplined because she refused to cooperate in an investigation, not because she reported an injury,” the railroad said in the letter.

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