Twenty-eight-year mining veteran Cindy Clapp filed a complaint against Cordero owner Cloud Peak Energy in May 2010, alleging the company terminated her employment in retaliation for her repeated safety complaints.
She said her discharge had “a chilling effect on the willingness of other miners to raise safety issues at the mine”
In December 2011, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission ordered Cordero to reinstate Clapp to her former position, pay for lost wages and benefits, remove all references from her personnel file and pay a civil penalty of $US40,000.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had sought a finding from the commission under Section 105(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act 1977 that states miners, miners’ representatives and applicants for employment were protected from retaliation for engaging in safety and/or health-related activities, such as identifying hazards or asking for MSHA inspections.
Cloud Peak appealed against the commission decision and requested a stay on the enforcement while the appeal was in process.
However, the appeal court found “substantial evidence” to support the discrimination findings and backed the decision to award full back pay.
Additionally, the court found the $40,000 penalty was neither excessive nor an abuse of discretion.
“This decision represents a resounding victory for miners and their right to identify hazardous conditions that imperil themselves and their fellow miners without fear of reprisal,” assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main said.
MSHA filed 39 requests with the commission during the 2012 fiscal year for temporary reinstatements on behalf of miners who submitted complaints of discrimination via suspension, layoff, discharge or other adverse action.
It was the most requests ever submitted by the agency in one year.
Cordero has until December 31 to petition for a rehearing of the case.