Today the Department of Labor has issued new regulations for whistleblower claims under four new laws. These laws include two laws included in the 2007 law that adopted recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA) and the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). This law also updated provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) which protects truck drivers, and DOL has announced new interim regulations on STAA whistleblower cases. Finally, DOL has issued new regulations for whistleblower claims under the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued the regulations, and will receive public comments until November 1, 2010. You can access all the rules through the Federal Register.

I have complained before to OSHA about rules that add hurdles for whistleblowers, and can derail a case away from being decided on the merits.  The one that irks me the most is the rule in 29 CFR 24.110 that requires parties appealing an judge’s decision to the Administrative Review Board (ARB) to list in the petition for review every issue they will raise on appeal. This listing of issues is not required in appeals from federal court. The time to list all the issues is when the lawyer has finished reviewing the record to write the brief. If the ARB wants to assess from the petition whether the case is worthy of further review, then it is sufficient to require that an appellant list enough issues to justify review.  There is no reason to add that any issue omitted from the petition is waived — other than to create a hurdle that can justify dismissing some issues or cases on grounds other than the merits.  That is a purpose contrary to the remedial purpose of protecting employees who put the public interest ahead of their own job security. Sadly, the new rules expand the requirement for detailed petitions for review, and the waiver of issues not raised.  See, for example, 29 CFR 1983.110(a) for CPSIA claims. Perhaps more significant, the new rules prevent the ARB from reversing an ALJ’s factual findings whenever the ARB finds “substantial evidence” to support the ALJ’s position. The Secretary of Labor used to conduct de novo review of the whole record, which provided better assurance that the DOL’s final decisions reflected the remedial purpose of protecting whistleblowers.  The only reason for the narrower standard of review is to make the ARB’s job easier. I think protecting whistleblowers is more important. I am also sad to see that the new rules require giving the DOL 15 days notice before a whistleblower files a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The purpose of this rule is to give DOL a chance to issue a final order before the case goes to District Court.  That is contrary to the legislative purpose of giving whistleblowers a fresh bite at the apple if DOL has taken too long to decide a case.  While it is helpful to have rules for the many FRSA, NTSSA, STAA and CPSIA cases in the pipeline, these rules fall short of the change I was hoping for. The full OSHA statement about the interim rules follows in the continuation of this post.


Continue Reading

Today’s Washington Post (Metro page B-1) reports on "a blunt assessment" of Washington DC’s Metro transit administration.  Retired Metro manager David L. Gunn wrote the report.  Among other problems, it finds a "shoot the messenger" phenomenon "that discourages employees from raising safety concerns." The report is particularly sobering in light of last year’s collision that

On October 14, the Washington Post ran a story on Metro drivers going “Strictly by the Book” (p. B-1). The story highlights safety issues that reach beyond Metro. That the Post’s writer would be concerned about the disruption reveals a prevalent but dangerous attitude that speed is more important than safety.

As an advocate for whistleblowers, I am particularly concerned that the bus drivers speaking to the reporter were afraid of retaliation. The National Transit Systems Security Act of 2007 (NTSSA) has given every transit system employee the right to put safety first, to bypass the chain of command, and to disobey unsafe or illegal orders. Under NTSSA, every Metro employee has legal protection if they choose to speak to a newspaper about safety concerns. They would be protected if they follow safety rules and run “late” as a result.
Continue Reading