March 22, 2012

Metro-North worker wins $1M in injury lawsuit

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A federal jury on Thursday awarded a Metro-North Railroad worker more than $1 million in punitive damages in his lawsuit accusing the commuter railway of disciplining him for reporting an injury.

The jury also awarded Andy Barati $50,000 for lost earnings, pain, suffering and disfigurement. Barati said he was wrongly fired when he reported that a jack failed and a rail tie fell on his foot, breaking a big toe.

Barati’s lawyer, Charles Goetsch, said the verdict was the first under the Federal Rail Safety Act, which forbids disciplining employees who report a violation of laws or rules or a workplace injury.

“It sent an unmistakably powerful message to Metro North and all railroads that retaliation against workers who report safety concerns will not be tolerated,” Goetsch said.

Spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Metro-North was reviewing the verdict “with an eye toward appeal.”

Metro-North is one of the nation’s most heavily traveled commuter railways linking New York City with suburbs in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York state.

The 48-year-old Barati, of Waterbury, Conn., said he was injured while working at New York’s Grand Central Terminal in April 008. He said he was fired, then later rehired with his dismissal reduced to a suspension.

The railroad accused Barati of lowering a rail and block tie without checking foot clearance, causing his left foot to become trapped under the block tie and resulting in injury.

Metro-North said Barati was disciplined for violating company policy when he failed to make sure his feet were in a safe place before releasing the trigger on the jack.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated, and found in June 2009 “reasonable cause” to believe that Metro-North violated the railroad safety law. Barati received back pay of $5,254.

OSHA said Barati, a track man and vehicle operator, had not operated a manual track jack except for a “couple of minutes” during orientation. In addition, OSHA said, the foreman reported that the work site was insufficiently lit.