A recent decision by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration awarded a commuter train employee the largest punitive damages ever awarded in a retaliation case. The case resulted in a compensation amount of nearly $260,000 for the injured worker.

A Metro-North employee won in recent litigation against his employer for retaliating against him after he reported a knee injury suffered on November 17, 2011. The OSHA investigation revealed that Metro-North’s conduct was deliberate and discriminatory, including intimidation and discussions telling the worker that those who were injured on the job received fewer promotion opportunities. After suffering his knee injury and subsequent disciplinary charges from his employer, the worker filed an anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA in April of 2012. The investigation that followed resulted in a payment to the employee of $250,000 in punitive damages and $10,000 in compensatory damages, along with reasonable attorney fees.

The Department of Labor enacted legislation relevant to employee filings for workers’ compensation benefits in order to protect employees who need to make a claim for assistance with rehabilitation costs or lost wages. The Federal Railroad Safety Act makes it illegal for employers to suspend, terminate or refuse to promote any employee due to the worker reporting a work-related injury.

Despite the pressure sometimes applied by employers to keep an on-the-job injury secret, employees should know that the law is on their side to ensure the worker’s health is given priority. Any retaliatory act by an employer would be violating the worker’s rights and severe repercussions may apply.

Source: Railway Age, “OSHA rules in favor of Metro-North worker,” William C. Vantuono, Dec. 16, 2014