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After the investigation of a 2010 claim against Union Pacific Railroad, Pamela Lakes, an administrative law judge at the U.S. Department of Labor, has ordered Union Pacific to reinstate a North Platte railroad worker to his apprentice machinist position “as soon as possible” and to pay him $325,000 in damages for illegally firing him.

Brian Peterson, who was terminated after reporting a required work-related injury, claimed that Union pacific illegally terminated his position after he turned in the required report for having suffered a minor injury on the job.

The incident occurred in 2009, when Peterson was injured after another employee ran over his foot while parking his vehicle. Both employees, including Petersen, who was talking on his cellphone at the time of the accident, were disciplined.

Union Pacific denied the injury incident had anything to do with Petersen’s dismissal, however, the judge did not believe that Peterson’s firing two weeks after returning from his injury was a coincidence and ruled in Peterson’s favor.

In her ruling, Judge Lakes said that Union Pacific’s own rules “punish an employee for being injured.” OSHA ruled that the railroad disciplined Petersen for speaking out and then fired him for a separate reason to cover up the company’s actions.

After three days of testimony in North Platte, Lakes ordered U.P. to pay Petersen even more damages than initially sought because “the actions by Union Pacific have been so egregious in this case, and U.P. has been so openly blatant in ignoring (the law), that I find punitive damages are necessary to ensure this reprehensible conduct is not repeated.”

Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific, issued a statement that said, “Union Pacific believes the ruling is contrary to other federal law and collective bargaining agreements the railroad must follow.”

Davis said that the railroad disagrees with the judge’s conclusions and plans to appeal.


Blog post by Gordon, Elias & Seely, a FELA lawyer and Nebraska railroad injury lawyer who publishes train accidents and FELA legal news from across the United States.

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