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The United States Department of Labor announced a settlement agreement with St. James Stevedoring Partners LLC New Orleans to pay a river barge captain $250,000.00 after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that the employer illegally terminated the captain for making safety complaints. The actions of the employer were found to be a violation of what is called the Seaman’s Protection Act.

OSHA had a whistleblower investigator assigned to the case. The investigator found that the St. James Stevedoring company fired the captain because he had complained to the United States Coast Guard about an inoperable starboard vessel engine. The captain, according to applicable regulations, was mandated to report lost engines to the Coast Guard. The failure to do so would have jeopardized his license.

The captain was then suspended by the company and told he was not permitted to report anomalies to the Coast Guard unless the company gave him permission. He was put on probation pending the decision regarding his termination. The captain then was involved in an identical second incident, where he advised the company and also contacted the Coast Guard. At this point his employer terminated him with the allegation of poor performance. OSHA determined that the employer violated the Seaman’s Protection Act. This act protects a seaman from such actions when a complaint is made to the United States Coast Guard.

The parties then reached a settlement agreement of $245,000.00. Of interest is that this whistleblowing law was passed into law in October of 2010, and this is the most significant reported payment made pursuant to this law since OSHA assumed jurisdiction to enforce the law.

A whistleblowing statute like this is essential, as stated by OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas, John M. Hermanson. As he stated: “Employees must feel free to exercise their rights under the law without fear of termination or retaliation by their employers.”

The whistleblower provisions of the Seaman’s Protection Act are enforced by OSHA. If a seaman feels they have been retaliated against for engaging in conduct protected by the statute, he or she can file a complaint with the secretary of labor which triggers an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Also, more information regarding whistleblower rights can be found online at The Whistleblower's Protection Program.

Our Miami based maritime law firm assists crewmembers, as well as passengers, who have had their legal rights violated by a boat operator, cruise ship operator, or employer.

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