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Mine worker fired in retaliation for hazard report wins $115,000

In April 2012, an electrician who worked at a Colorado coal mine noticed a dangerous situation at the mine's conveyer belt, or beltline. When he decided it wasn't being adequately addressed by his supervisor, he filed a report with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which responded by inspecting the mine works and citing the company, New Elk Coal Company LLC, owned by Cline Mining Corporation, with several safety citations. In May, the electrician was fired.

A month later, he filed a complaint claiming he had been terminated in retaliation for reporting the illegal conduct

Mining is regulated similarly to other industries, but through a separate agency and laws. In mining, retaliatory termination is called a discriminatory termination and is a violation of Section 105(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. That law that was passed to protect miners and mine workers from employer retaliation when they blow the whistle on safety hazards or who refuse to engage in unsafe mining activities.

The Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, the division of the Labor Department responsible for adjudicating discriminatory termination claims, just announced a settlement of the retaliation case. New Elk agreed to pay the wrongfully terminated electrician approximately $115,000 in lieu of job reinstatement. New Elk also agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Earlier, a Mine Safety and Health Review Commission administrative law judge found that the electrician had indeed been fired in retaliation for reporting New Elk’s illegal conduct and ordered him reinstated to his job. He and the mining company mutually agreed to part ways, however, so he was ultimately awarded ten months’ pay. In a separate case, a supervisor at the same mine filed a claim of discriminatory termination of a supervisor. New Elk agreed to pay that man $88,000 -- and to pay another $10,000 to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"All miners, supervisors and contractors have the right to identify hazardous conditions and refuse unsafe work without fear of discrimination or retaliation," the assistant secretary of labor for the MSHA.

Source: Mine Safety and Health Administration News Release, "MSHA, New Elk Coal reach settlement; Miner who filed discrimination complaint to receive $115,000," May 8, 2013

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