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).