The whistleblower protection provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (“STAA”) protects truck drivers from retaliation where they engage in protected whistleblowing, which includes:
- Refusing to operate a vehicle because: (i) The operation violates a regulation, standard, or order of the United States related to commercial motor vehicle safety, health, or security; or (ii) He or she has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to himself or herself or the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety or security condition;
- Accurately reporting hours on duty; or
- Cooperating with a safety or security investigation by the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the National Transportation Safety Board; or
- Furnishing information to the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Transportation Safety Board, or any Federal, State, or local regulatory or law enforcement agency as to the facts relating to any accident or incident resulting in injury or death to an individual or damage to property occurring in connection with commercial motor vehicle transportation.
In two recent cases, truck drivers prevailed where they were terminated for refusing to drive a damaged truck and refusing to drive while on prescription medication.
Proving a Trucking Safety Whistleblower Protection Claim
A trucking whistleblower must prove the following to prevail in a STAA whistleblower retaliation claim:
- The employee engaged in protected conduct;
- The employer was aware of the protected whistleblowing;
- The employer took an adverse action; and
- The protected whistleblower was a contributing factor in the employer’s decision to take the adverse action.
Prohibited STAA Whistleblower Retaliation
STAA proscribes a wide range of retaliatory adverse actions, including discharging, disciplining or discriminating against a whistleblowing employee regarding pay, terms or privileges of employment. Examples include blacklisting, termination, suspension, demotion, reduction in salary, failure to hire, or any act that would deter a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity.
Remedies Available to Prevailing Trucking Industry Whistleblowers
A prevailing trucking industry whistleblower can recover:
- Lost wages and benefits,
- Damages for emotional distress and anguish, humiliation, harm to reputation, and other non-economic harms,
- Attorney fees and litigation costs, and
- Punitive damages up to $250,000.
Recently, a truck driver was awarded $150,000 after he was fired for refusing to drive in unsafe weather conditions.
In Fink v. R&L Transfer, Inc., the ARB affirmed an award of compensatory damages in the amount of $100,000.00, and punitive damages in the amount of $50,000 to a truck driver who was terminated for refusing to drive in unsafe winter weather conditions.
How to File a Trucking Safety Whistleblower Retaliation Action
A STAA whistleblowing complaint must be filed initially with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within 180 days of when the whistleblower knew or should have known of the retaliatory action.
The whistle-blower protection provision of the STAA provides a strong remedy for whistleblowers in the trucking industry. To learn if you have a potential STAA whistleblower retaliation claim, call the Zuckerman Law Whistleblower Protection Help Line at 202-262-8959 or email [email protected].
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