The US Mine Safety and Health Administration said late Monday the decision was announced by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to return Charles Howard to his former job at Cumberland River Coal’s Band Mill No. 2 mine in Kentucky.
In addition to the reinstatement, the judge also ordered an increase to the operator’s civil penalty from a proposed $US20,000 to $30,000.
Howard was initially injured at the Letcher County mine in 2010 and, upon returning the following May, was almost immediately terminated.
He filed a complaint of discrimination with MSHA claiming he was fired for activity protected under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 on numerous occasions beginning in April 2007.
“Section 105(c)(2) of the Mine Act states a miner cannot be discharged, discriminated against or interfered with in the exercise of his statutory rights because he has filed a complaint regarding a health or safety violation,” the agency said.
MSHA initiated an investigation and later filed the case with the review commission.
“According to court documents, Cumberland River Coal refused to allow Howard to return to his job after being released to return to work by his treating physician,” the agency said.
“Instead, the mine operator sought the supplemental opinion of a doctor who, after changing his mind from his earlier diagnosis, determined that Howard could not return to work.”
However, officials said there was no suggestion Howard was terminated due to work performance and found no incident to justify his firing.
“The only difficulty that [the mine operator] had with Howard was the fact that he continued to make safety complaints and continued to contact MSHA,” administrative law judge Margaret Miller said.
“Finally, not only was there open hostility against Howard, he was treated differently than other miners who had suffered a work-related injury."
MSHA assistant secretary Joseph Main said retaliation protection was among the most critical provisions of the Mine Act as well as one of his own personal priorities as head of the agency.
“This decision represents a victory not only for Mr Howard but for all miners who speak out about hazardous conditions,” Main said.