A federal appeals court has affirmed that Pan Am Railways Inc. must pay $260,000 in damages to a Maine employee who was subjected to retaliation for filing a Federal Railroad Safety Act whistleblower complaint.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the complaint, filed in 2011 by an employee who works in Pan Am’s Waterville rail yard. The employee had tried to report an injury.

According to the Labor Department, the North Billerica, Massachusetts-based commercial railroad retaliated against the employee by charging him with dishonesty in connection with his complaint. The department does not release the names of workers involved in whistleblower complaints.

The Labor Department ordered the railroad to take corrective actions and pay the employee $10,000 in compensatory damages and $40,000 in punitive damages. Pan Am appealed the order, and in 2014 an administrative law judge upheld the agency’s finding of retaliation and increased the amount of punitive damages to $250,000.

The railroad appealed again, this time to the Labor Department’s Administrative Review Board, which affirmed the judge’s order. It then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which denied the railroad’s petition April 21.

“This case is a strong reminder that our whistleblower laws prohibit reprisals against employees who file whistleblower complaints, report workplace injuries and illnesses, or raise awareness of hazardous safety or security conditions,” Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator, said in a written statement.

Pan Am still can file a motion for a panel rehearing or a rehearing by the full Circuit Court, or it can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a motion for appeal.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

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 to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights is available at whistleblowers.gov.

“Discriminatory actions by employers, including but not limited to retaliation, can freeze employees into silence,” said Michael Felsen, the department’s regional solicitor of labor for New England. “Hazardous conditions can go unreported as a result, and lead to avoidable human and financial costs.”

Pan Am Railways is a subsidiary of Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based Pan Am Systems, formerly known as Guilford Transportation Industries. The company did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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