US Department of Labor orders Gaines Motor Lines Inc. and two officials
to reinstate whistleblowers and pay more than $1 million in damages
Company and officials violated Surface Transportation Assistance Act by firing employees
HICKORY, N.C. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered Gaines Motor Lines Inc., and individuals Tim Gaines and Rick Tompkins, to compensate four former truck drivers who were fired in violation of the whistleblower protection provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which was amended to implement recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, and pay more than $1,070,123 in back pay wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages.
"Workers in this industry must be able to raise safety concerns with federal officials without fear of retaliation," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "Participating in an on-site inspection helps to ensure safer conditions for truck drivers and vehicles on the road. Employers undermining these protections through intimidation and adverse conduct will not be tolerated."
The whistleblower complaint alleged that four employees were terminated for participating in an inspection audit of the commercial motor carrier company's facility in Hickory, which was conducted by the DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. From Feb. 28 through March 1, 2012, the four employees were interviewed on-site by the FMCSA. On March 8, following the audit and subsequent citations issued against Gaines Motor Lines, the workers suffered adverse retaliation by company officials, including termination, layoffs and removal of employee benefits.
The order includes a preliminary reinstatement for three of the four employees-the fourth died in early 2013-back wages, interest, compensatory damages of $215,657 and punitive damages of $675,000. Either party to the case can file an appeal to the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges, but such an appeal does not suspend the preliminary reinstatement order.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the STAA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities laws, trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, food safety, motor vehicle safety, workplace safety and health regulations, and consumer product safety laws.
Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille or CD from the COAST office upon request by calling 216-893-7828 or TTY 216-893-7755.