Smith Law represents employees in the commercial motor transportation industry who have been discharged in violation of the whistleblower protection provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). The STAA’s anti-retaliation provision protects drivers of commercial motor vehicles (and workers who directly affect commercial motor vehicle safety such as mechanics and freight handlers) from adverse employment actions for engaging in protected activity—refusing to violate a regulation/standard/order related to commercial motor vehicle safety or filing complaints alleging such violations. See 49 U.S.C.S. § 31105.
Examples of an adverse employment action include the following:
- Reduced work hours
- Threats of reprisal
- Unjustified negative evaluations
Examples of protected activity include the following:
- Complaining to your supervisor about violations of a safety regulation/standard/order
- Filing or threatening to file a complaint
- Testifying in a proceeding related to violations of a safety regulation/standard/order
- Refusing to falsify a logbook
- Refusing to drive in excess of the hours-of-service limits
- Refusing to drive in hazardous weather conditions
What Do I Have to Prove to Win?
To establish an STAA whistleblower/retaliation claim, an employee must prove that: (1) he engaged in protected activity under the STAA; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) his protected activity was a contributing factor in the adverse employment action. Regarding the third element (contributing factor), an employee need only show that his protected activity (alone or in connection with other factors) had some effect on the outcome of the employer’s decision.
An employee can prove retaliation using direct evidence (i.e., an employer’s admission that it retaliated against him). If there isn’t any direct evidence, an employee can prove retaliation using circumstantial evidence. An example of circumstantial evidence is temporal proximity, which refers to the time between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. The closer in time between the protected activity and the adverse employment action, the stronger the inference of retaliation (i.e., that the protected activity was a contributing factor to the adverse employment action). Thus, an employee who is fired the same day that he refused to drive in excess of the hours-of-service requirements set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMSCR) can probably prove that his refusal contributed to his termination based on temporal proximity alone.
What Damages Can I Recover?
An employee is entitled to immediate reinstatement; back pay (plus interest); emotional distress damages; expungement of the termination; and attorney’s fees and costs. An employee may also be entitled to punitive damages if the employer acted intentionally or showed a reckless disregard for the employee’s rights under the STAA. Punitive damages are capped at $250,000.00. See 49 U.S.C.S. § 31105(3)(C).
Are There Filing Deadlines?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency that is responsible for enforcing the STAA. To preserve a claim under the STAA’s whistleblower protection provision, an employee must file a complaint with OSHA no later than 180 days after the alleged violation occurred. See 49 U.S.C.S. § 31105(b)(1). An employee who fails to meet this filing deadline will forfeit his claim. Find your nearest OSHA area office here.
Smith Law Can Help
Located in Dacula in Gwinnett County, Smith Law represents trucking whistleblowers throughout the state of Georgia. Call us now at (678) 889-5191 or click the button below to find out whether our trucking whistleblower lawyers can help.
Disclaimer: the information on this website isn’t legal advice and doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship. Don’t rely on the information.