A federal judge has ordered that Union Pacific Railroad reinstate and pay $325,000 in damages to a North Platte, Neb., employee who was terminated after reporting a work-related injury.
Pamela Lakes, an administrative law judge at the U.S. Department of Labor, said the Omaha-based railroad must rehire Brian Petersen to his apprentice machinist position in North Platte “as soon as possible” and pay him $325,000 in damages.
Petersen was injured in 2009 after another employee ran over his foot while parking his vehicle. Both employees — including Petersen, because he had been talking on his cellphone at the time of the accident — were disciplined. Petersen was later fired.
In his complaint, Petersen said that U.P. illegally terminated his position as a result of his having suffered a minor injury on the job and turning in the required report. U.P. denied the injury incident had anything to do with Petersen's dismissal, which occurred within two weeks of the accident, after Petersen had returned to work.
After investigating the 2010 claim, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the railroad disciplined Petersen for speaking out and then fired him for a separate reason to cover up the company's actions. OSHA issued an order in Petersen's favor, saying U.P. must reinstate Petersen and award him monetary damages of about $215,000. U.P. appealed.
After three days of testimony in North Platte, Lakes ordered U.P. to pay Petersen even more damages than initially sought because “the actions by Union Pacific have been so egregious in this case, and U.P. has been so openly blatant in ignoring (the law), that I find punitive damages are necessary to ensure this reprehensible conduct is not repeated.”
U.P. spokesman Mark Davis said in a statement that the railroad disagrees with the judge's conclusions and plans to appeal.
“Union Pacific believes the ruling is contrary to other federal law and collective bargaining agreements the railroad must follow,” he said.