Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Complain and face the sack

A Kentucky miner blew the whistle about what he considered unsafe working conditions, he was fired from his welding job and subsequently sued by his former employer for filing the complaint. Reuben Shemwell, a 32-year-old miner at the Parkway Mine Surface Facilities, the troubles began when he complained about the need for respirator protection from fumes generated during the welding process. Shemwell did not feel comfortable working in small, confined spaces overcome with fumes. Shortly after submitting his complaint with the Secretary of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in late 2011, he was fired from his job for “excessive cell phone use” at work. When MSHA officials tried to inspect Shemwell’s former work area, Armstrong Coal, the company that runs the mine, shut down the site and laid off ten workers rather than subjecting it to inspection – actions that suggest Shemwell’s complaints might have been legitimate.

Armstrong Coal, the company filed a lawsuit against him, claiming he filed a “false discrimination claim” against them, which would be a “wrongful use of civil proceedings”. The company claimed that this “frivolous lawsuit” cost them “unnecessary and substantial costs” in litigation fees – even though the company has an approximate annual revenue of $300 million.

“Miners who wish to avoid similar treatment, will be hesitant from asserting their rights,” the MSHA wrote in a separate complaint they filed against Armstrong, which alleges that the company’s lawsuit was an act of “retaliation and/or discrimination”.

“I’ve been representing miners in safety discrimination cases for more than 30 years, and this is the first time I know of anywhere in the country where a company has sued a miner for filing a discrimination complaint,”
said defense attorney Tony Oppegard. “We think the reason they filed [the suit] was to intimidate him and to intimidate other miners.”
Reuben Shemwell “We, as miners, have rights. They just don’t want us to know about them."

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