Retaliating against an injured worker can cost big bucks. In this case, a judge upheld OSHA’s findings against a company but lowered the penalty.
Brian Ford worked for New Prime Inc. as a commercial truck driver.
On Oct. 17, 2008, New Prime dispatched Ford to pick up a load in Virginia. While at the Virginia facility, Ford felt a sharp pull in his lower back and a very sharp pain down his right leg but continued working.
Several days later, Ford told the fleet manager his back symptoms continued and asked to be dispatched to his home in South Carolina to see a doctor.
On Nov. 1, 2008, Ford went to the emergency room. A doctor prescribed multiple narcotic pain medications and a muscle relaxant. Ford told New Prime he couldn’t safely drive while taking the medication.
Ford was unable to work and had surgery in April 2009. His doctor said he could return to work July 1, 2009.
When he applied for work at a different company, a recruiter told him that New Prime had reported to U.S. Investigation Services that he abandoned a loaded vehicle which resulted in a negative notation on his Drive-A-Check Report. Another employer offered him a job, and he started working again in August 2009.
Ford filed a complaint with OSHA alleging he was retaliated against by New Prime for filing an injury report and not being able to drive because he was taking prescribed pain medications. Ford claimed the company had blacklisted him.
OSHA investigated and determined New Prime had retaliated against Ford. The agency ordered the company to pay Ford $101,000: $41,000 in lost wages from July 1, 2009 to April 1, 2010; $40,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering; and $20,000 in punitive damages for New Prime’s disregard for Ford’s rights under federal law.
New Prime appealed the decision to a U.S. Department of Labor administrative judge.
The judge agreed with OSHA’s findings, but changed the amount New Prime owed Ford. The amount of lost wages was calculated only for July 1, 2009 through late August when Ford started a new job: $9,600 plus pre-and post-judgment interest.
The judge reduced the compensatory damages to $10,000 and found punitive damages were warranted. New Prime will also have to pay Ford’s attorney fees.
As it stands now, the amount the judge assessed is only about 20% of OSHA’s amount. But the total is likely to increase after interest and attorney fees are calculated.
New Prime removed the abandonment report from Ford’s record in September 2009.
OSHA administers the whistleblower protection provisions of more than 20 federal statutes which prohibit employers from discharging or retaliating against an employee because the worker complained about unsafe or unhealthful conditions or exercised other rights (such as reporting a workplace injury) under federal law.
(Brian Ford v. New Prime Inc., Office of Administrative Law Judges, No. 2014-STA-00025, 7/13/15)