A Connecticut railroad worker received a judgment of more than $1 million in damages in a jury trial against his employer, Metro-North Railroad. The plaintiff, Andy Barati, alleged that Metro-North retaliated against him by unlawfully firing him after he reported concerns with workplace safety. These concerns arose after Barati was injured. Using a federal law designed to protect whistleblowers, Barati sued the railroad. This case has important implications for injured workers who want to do their part to prevent future injuries.
Barati worked for Metro-North as a trackman at the Grand Central Terminal Loop Track. He was injured on the job on April 22, 2008 when a rail tie fell on his left foot after a jack allegedly failed, breaking his big toe. According to his complaint, he immediately reported the injury to his supervisor.
About two weeks later, on May 7, Barati says he received a “Notice of Disciplinary Trial” from his employer. He says he became subject to a formal disciplinary trial on May 30, and that Metro-North terminated his employment on June 17. He was only able to return to work on August 5, 2008, after he submitted to further discipline that remained on his permanent employment record and reduced his income and other benefits.
In October 2008, Barati filed a complaint under the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) with the U.S. Department of Labor. FRSA prohibits railroad carriers from retaliating against an employee for making a good faith report of any injuries on the job or other matters relating to workplace safety. The law’s protections are administered by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which issued an order supporting Barati in June 2009. This order allowed Barati’s lawsuit to go forward.
Barati filed his lawsuit in November 2010, claiming that Metro-North failed to use reasonable care to prevent injuries on the worksite where Barati’s accident occurred by failing to give safety briefings, to supervise employees sufficiently, to provide enough lighting, or to train employees to use rail jacks. These unsafe conditions led directly to his injuries, he alleged, and he asserted that Metro-North was liable for his injuries under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). FELA allows compensation for railroad workers who suffer work-related injuries. He claimed damages in the form of medical costs, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. Barati further alleged that Metro-North violated FRSA by dismissing him after he reported his injury and safety concerns.
A jury awarded Barati $50,000 in compensatory damages for his pain and suffering and lost wages. It also awarded him $1 million in punitive damages. Barati’s attorney told the Wall Street Journal that this was the first verdict to rely on FRSA. Metro-North has indicated that it will likely appeal the verdict.