OSHA said it has ordered North Branford, Conn.-based Palumbo Trucking Inc. and owner David Palumbo "to withdraw a retaliatory lawsuit filed against two former workers of the commercial motor carrier who raised safety concerns."
The agency also has ordered Palumbo to pay the whistleblowers $60,000 and take other corrective actions.
"Filing a baseless, retaliatory lawsuit against workers who engaged in protected activity has a profound, chilling effect," said Marthe Kent, OSHA's New England regional administrator.
"It can intimidate workers into remaining silent about safety and health concerns that could have consequences for them and others on the road."
The order comes on the heels of an OSHA investigation, which determined that the company violated the whistleblower-protection provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act when it filed a lawsuit against two former workers – a mechanic and a driver – who had registered complaints about a potentially unsafe truck with the North Branford Police Department and the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles in September 2012.
While the workers were discharged from employment for reasons unrelated to their protected activities, according to OSHA, the company subsequently filed a lawsuit against the two workers in the Superior Court of Connecticut on Jan. 7, 2013, alleging that they intentionally and maliciously filed the complaint with the North Branford Police Department.
In addition to ordering the withdrawal of the lawsuit, the order requires Palumbo to pay each worker $20,000 in punitive damages for the filing and litigating of a lawsuit that was solely intended to retaliate against activities protected by the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, as well as $10,000 each in compensatory damages for mental anguish, emotional distress, pain and suffering.
Additionally, the company must pay reasonable attorneys' fees to the complainants, provide the former workers a neutral job reference and post a notice on its job site and provide fact sheets to its workers notifying them of their rights under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.
The company or the complainants can file objections or request a hearing before the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receipt of OSHA's order.