Railroad Worker Prevails in FRSA Whistleblower Retaliation Case
A jury has awarded $1.25 million to a whistleblower who suffered retaliation for disclosing safety violations to BNSF Railway and federal authorities. The verdict includes $250,000 in punitive damages, the maximum punitive damages award authorized under the FRSA,
According to the complaint, Mr. Elliott reported a number of potential signal-related safety violations to BNSF management and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The territory in which most of the safety violations took place was overseen by Mr. Kautzmann. Following an investigation, the FRA found several violations, including 245 track, switch and turnout defects and 112 signal system defects. Some of the violations resulted in civil penalties.
When Mr. Elliott was off duty, Mr. Kautzmann followed Mr. Elliott outside into the parking lot, and provoked him by jumping onto the hood of Mr. Elliott’s car while Mr. Elliott was driving his vehicle to exit the parking lot. Mr. Kautzmann alleged to police that Mr. Elliott assaulted him. Mr. Elliott was arrested for assault and was acquitted at trial. BNSF used this incident to terminate Mr. Elliott’s employment by accusing him of failing to report an off the job occurrence relating to his licensure as a locomotive engineer.
Click here to learn more about the damages that can be recovered in a whistleblower retaliation case.
Federal Railroad Safety Act Whistleblower Protections
The Federal Railroad Safety Act prohibits retaliation against a railroad employee who provides information to a regulatory or law enforcement agency, a member of Congress, or any person with supervisory authority over the employee about a reasonably perceived violation of federal law relating to railroad safety or security, or the abuse of public funds appropriated for railroad safety. In addition, the FRSA protects an employee who:
- refuses to violate a federal law, rule or regulation related to railroad safety or security;
- files a complaint under FRSA;
- notifies or attempts to notify the railroad carrier or Department of Transportation of a work related personal injury or illness of an employee;
- cooperates with safety or security investigations conducted by the DOT, Department of Homeland Security, or National Transportation Safety Board;
- furnishes information to the DOT, DHS, NTSB, or any federal, state or local law enforcement agency regarding an accident resulting in death or injury to a person in connection with railroad transportation; or
- accurately reports hours on duty.
Reports about workplace safety hazards are also protected under the FRSA. Kuduk v. BNSF Ry. Co., 980 F. Supp. 2d 1092, 1099 (D. Minn. 2013), aff’d, 768 F.3d 786 (8th Cir. 2014).
Remedies for Prevailing Railroad Safety Whistleblowers
A prevailing FRSA whistleblower can obtain a wide range of remedies, including: (1) reinstatement, (2) back pay, (3) compensatory damages, (4) attorney fees and litigation costs; and (5) punitive damages up to $250,000.
Experienced Whistleblower Protection Lawyers
Before hiring a lawyer for a high-stakes whistleblower case, assess the lawyer’s reputation, prior experience representing whistleblowers, knowledge of whistleblower laws and prior results. And consider the experience of other whistleblowers working with that attorney. We have extensive experience representing whistleblower under a wide variety of corporate whistleblower protection laws. See our client testimonials by clicking here.
- U.S. News and Best Lawyers® have named Zuckerman Law a Tier 1 firm in Litigation – Labor and Employment in the Washington DC metropolitan area.
- Both Eric Bachman and Jason Zuckerman served on the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Secretary of Labor to improve OSHA’s administration of federal whistleblower protections.
- Firm Principal Jason Zuckerman was recognized by Washingtonian magazine as a “Top Whistleblower Lawyer” in 2015, 2009, and 2007 selected by his peers to be included in The Best Lawyers in America® in the category of employment law (2011-2017), and selected by his peers to be listed in SuperLawyers (2012 and 2015-2017) in the category of labor and employment law. is rated 10 out of 10 by Avvo, based largely on client reviews, and rated AV Preeminent® by Martindale-Hubbell based on peer reviews.
- The firm has published extensively on whistleblower rights and protections, and speaks nationwide at seminars and continuing legal education conferences. We blog about new developments under whistleblower retaliation and rewards laws at the Whistleblower Protection Blog.
- The firm is routinely quoted in the media about whistleblower rights and protections.
- Eric Bachman and Jason Zuckerman served in senior positions at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency charged with protecting whistleblowers in the federal government. At OSC, they oversaw investigations of whistleblower claims and obtained corrective action or relief for whistleblowers.