Hepburnia Coal Co. Agrees to Pay Fine, Provide Special Training in Discrimination Settlement

To settle charges of discrimination against an employee, Hepburnia Coal Co. Inc., a Pennsylvania surface mine operator, agreed to pay a $3,750 civil penalty and provide its miners with training surrounding their rights to report safety hazards or request MSHA inspections without retaliation.

The employee, David J. Sturgeon Sr., filed a complaint against Hepburnia Coal Co. in April 2011, claiming the company discriminated against him. The mine owner issued a 30-day suspension to Sturgeon because he apparently was suspected of making safety complaints to MSHA about the company's Shane Mine – complaints that resulted in MSHA issuing citations for numerous violations.

Although Sturgeon was recalled to work the next day and suffered no monetary damages, he alleged that his discipline could inhibit other miners from making future safety complaints.

In a complaint filed with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, MSHA sought a finding that Hepburnia unlawfully discriminated against an employee in violation of Section 105(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The statute protects miners, their representatives and applicants for employment from retaliation for engaging in safety and/or health-related activities such as identifying hazards, asking for MSHA inspections or refusing to engage in an unsafe act.

The MSHA-developed training Hepburnia has agreed to provide will be given to all of its employees at all of its locations, and will include training on the right to report safety hazards to the operator or MSHA.

"Every miner has the right to identify hazardous conditions and refuse unsafe work without fear of discrimination or retaliation," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Incorporating training requirements on the rights of miners into discrimination settlements is a positive and innovative step toward establishing a health and safety culture in the mining industry in which miners have a voice in their own health and safety."

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