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Whistleblower Protections in the Federal Railroad Safety Act

Mar 12, 2024 | Railroad Train Injuries, Railroad Worker Train Injuries, Train Accidents

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The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) stands as a crucial legislative shield, protecting the rights of employees who choose to disclose safety concerns in the perilous railroad industry. As attorneys who represent railroad workers, we are of the opinion that anyone warning of potential safety violations must be protected.

Recently, a significant case involving Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) has spotlighted the vital role of whistleblower protections in ensuring workplace safety. This article delves into the FRSA’s provisions, examining how BNSF violated these protections and the subsequent legal ramifications.

Whistleblower Protections Under the FRSA:

The FRSA is explicit in safeguarding railroad employees who report safety or security issues, fraud, waste, or the abuse of federal funds. The law prohibits railroad companies from retaliating against employees who lawfully disclose such information through internal or external channels. This legal framework aims to cultivate an environment where individuals feel secure in raising concerns without fear of repercussions.

BNSF’s Violation of Whistleblower Protections:

In a recent case, a former BNSF employee, identified as Brandon Fresquez, found himself at the center of a legal battle after reporting hazardous rail defects. Despite the explicit protections afforded by the FRSA, BNSF terminated Fresquez in violation of these whistleblower provisions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated Fresquez’s retaliation complaint, ultimately concluding that BNSF’s actions were in breach of the FRSA.

Legal Ramifications of Violating the Federal Rail Safety Act:

In a landmark ruling, a federal court ordered BNSF to rectify the injustices inflicted upon Fresquez. The court mandated a payment of $1.74 million, encompassing $696,173 in back wages and future lost wages.

Additionally, BNSF was directed to pay $800,000 in damages for emotional distress and an extra $250,000 in punitive damages—representing the maximum allowable under U.S. law. This legal decision underscores the gravity of BNSF’s transgressions and serves as a precedent for upholding whistleblower protections in the railroad industry.

Historical Context and Advocacy:

The BNSF case is not an isolated incident, as the railroad industry has a troubling history of retaliating against employees who voice safety concerns. Advocates, including lawyers and government officials, have long pushed for stronger penalties and criminal charges to deter such behavior. Currently, OSHA can impose a maximum fine of $250,000 on railroads, a penalty deemed insufficient by critics who argue that higher consequences are necessary to curb retaliatory actions.

Kujawski & Associates Protect Railroad Workers

The BNSF case illuminates the pivotal role of whistleblower protections in the railroad industry, as enshrined in the FRSA. It serves as a stark reminder that violating these protections has tangible legal consequences. As the industry continues to evolve, prioritizing the safety of employees and the public remains paramount. Strengthening penalties and enforcing whistleblower protections are essential steps in fostering a culture of safety and accountability within the railroad sector, ultimately preventing potential disasters and preserving the integrity of the industry.

Railroad Worker Lawyer in O’Fallon, IL

At the railroad law firm of Kujawski & Associates LLC, we are proud of our reputation for our diligent work on cases involving Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and for successfully representing those who file railroad injury claims.

We’re proud of our a record-breaking $8.625 million settlement in 1999, a $10 million verdict for an injured worker in 2010 and our success on behalf of locomotive engineer Bob McBride in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of CSX Transportation v. McBride.

As a niche area for personal injury lawyers, FELA cases demand exacting advocacy of an experienced railroad injury attorney. Don’t make the mistake of trusting your case to an attorney who is inexperienced with the field of railroad law.

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