On November 13, 2013, OSHA issued a press release stating that it ordered Gaines Motor Lines (the “Company”) to pay a total of $1,070,123 to four whistleblowers, along with reinstatement.
The press release indicates that from February 28 through March 1, 2012, truck drivers participated in a DOT inspection audit over allegedly manipulated driver logs. According to the press release, on March 8, 2012, following the audit and subsequent citations against the Company, the employees suffered adverse actions, including termination of employment and removal of benefits. OSHA found these actions to amount to retaliation in violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.
The preliminary order includes reinstatement for three of the four employees (the fourth died in early 2013-back wages), along with interest, compensatory damages totaling $215,657 and punitive damages totaling $675,000.
It is important for employers in other industries subject to any of the 21 other whistleblower protection statutes OSHA enforces—including statutes such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act—to appreciate the vigilance OSHA has recently demonstrated. Though this award is noteworthy when considered independently, its importance becomes all the more apparent when viewed in light of the $1.9 million award it issued on September 30, 2013, as discussed in our October 9, 2013 post.