Federal Rail Safety Act – Choice of Remedies
The Administrative Review Board (ARB) for the Department of Labor recently ruled that a railroad worker’s pursuit of a remedy under a collective bargaining agreement does not preclude his other claim under the whistleblower provisions of theFederal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA).
The Railroad terminated the worker, who then filed a grievance and pursued arbitration under the Railway Labor Act (RLA, available at http://www.fra.dot.gov/pages/955.shtml). The railroad worker alleged that his termination violated the collective bargaining agreement between his union and the railroad. He then also filed a FRSA whistleblower complaint with the Labor Department. The railroad moved to have the whistleblower case dismissed, arguing that the worker could not pursue the action under both the collective bargaining agreement and the FRSA.
The issue in the motion was a provision of the Federal Rail Safety Act, called the “election of remedies provision”. This part of the law states that an employee can not “seek protection under both this section and another provision of law for the same allegedly unlawful act of the railroad carrier.”
The Administrative Law Judge denied the railroad’s motion, which was then reviewed by a higher review board, called the Administrative Review Board (ARB).
The review board looked to the plain meaning of the term “another provision of law” contained in the FRSA, concluding that this language did NOT include grievances filed pursuant to a “collective bargaining agreement.” A collective bargaining agreement is a contractual agreement as opposed to “another provision of law.” The review board stated that “[t]he fact that a party relies on the law to enforce a right in a collective bargaining agreement is not the same as a right created under a provision of law.” (They cited the case of Graf v. Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Co., 697 F.2d 771, 776 (7th Cir. 1983) to support this interpretation).
This ruling is extremely important because it defines the rights of railroad workers and their protections under both federal law provisions and contractual agreements . This post is not intended to be legal advice, and any individual who is considering a lawsuit against the railroad for whistle blowing should consult an attorney familiar with this area of the law.