Yesterday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office in Atlanta, Georgia, issued an order reinstating truck driver William Beecher.  As soon as he recovers from an unrelated temporary disability, he can return to work for United Auto Delivery and Recovery and the Memphis Auto Auction. OSHA found that the owners of these two companies operate them as one business, and that both businesses, and their managers, are liable for firing Beecher in 2009. Beecher had repeatedly complained that the “rollback” truck he drove was leaking coolant. He wrote up the truck when it had a blown head gasket, and continued to note the coolant leak when he did his pretrip inspections. He was carrying extra coolant with him to refill the coolant as needed. Finally, on February 5, 2009, he refused to drive the truck on grounds that it was not safe. The boss asked him to drive another truck, and Beecher refused because he did not have a commercial drivers license (CDL), which was required for that other truck. On February 6, 2009, the companies fired him for walking off the job.

It mattered not that Beecher had driven the truck before, knowing about the coolant leak. The law protects whistleblowers whenever they decide to take a stand for safety. It mattered not that Beecher used profanity to describe the truck. It mattered not that he left the premises when his boss had no work for him. That company records showed they knew about the coolant leak for weeks and failed to fix it showed their animus against the protected concern Beecher was raising.

OSHA ordered the companies to reinstate him to employment when Beecher’s temporary disability ends. OSHA also ordered the companies to pay $38,447.80 in back pay, $20,000 for Beecher’s emotional distress, $40,000 for punitive damages, $10,634.58 for attorney’s fees, and interest. OSHA ordered the companies to refrain from further discrimination against Beecher for filing his complaint, and ordered the managers to sign and post a notice to employees about their rights under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), 49 U.S.C. 31105.

The companies and Beecher can appeal the decision and ask for a hearing, but any request for hearing will not delay the order to reinstate Beecher. Congratulations to Beecher and his attorney, Paul Taylor of Burnsville, Minnesota (who gave permission to me to post this decision).

  • highwaylawyer

    While i applaud this decision and action by OSHA and Paul Taylor’s diligence in the field of whistleblower protection under the STAA, “Back to work” orders from USDOL should not take 2 years to accomplish and cost $10,000 in attorney’s fees. *It is what Congress originally intended when they passed the STAA in 1982.

    When are we going to see timely back to work orders for drivers harassed and fired by ATA member companies like Yellow-Roadway and UPS – for refusals to drive when ill and chronically fatigued, which is the primary killer on the highway?

    I’ll believe it when i see it. ;-)

    392.3 ill or fatigued operator.
    No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle. However, in a case of grave emergency where the hazard to occupants of the commercial motor vehicle or other users of the highway would be increased by compliance with this section, the driver may continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle to the nearest place at which that hazard is removed.
    Code of Federal Regulations379
    [35 FR 7800, May 21, 1970, as amended at 60 FR 38746, July 28, 1995]