January 28, 2005: A recent case shows that some non-driver employees may be protected by the federal whistleblower law if they are engaged in activity related to truck safety or Department of Transportation regulations.
In George T. Luckie v. UPS an administrative law judge ruled that UPS retaliated against Luckie in response to his efforts to investigate a fire at the Montgomery, Ala., hub in 2001.
This case involves a UPS manager, not a union employee, yet it shows that the Surface Transportation Assistance Act whistleblower law can be used to counter truck-safety-related retaliation.
In October 2001 a package caught fire on a conveyor belt at the Montgomery hub. It could not be put out using fire extinguishers. The building was evacuated and the fire department was called. The building suffered over $100,000 damage.
Luckie, as district security manager, tried to investigate the cause of the fire and asked that the trailer from which the original package originated be isolated to determine that other packages were safe. He also pointed out that a form would have to be filed with the Department of Transportation, notifying them of the scope and nature of the incident. He stressed that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks it was imperative to determine the cause of the fire.
Instead of assisting Luckie’s investigation, District Manager Chris Martin moved to end it. The fire debris was removed before the cause of the fire was learned; no effort was made to isolate other potentially dangerous packages or the trailer they came from. Martin removed Luckie from the investigation and ordered him to report that the fire was caused by friction on the conveyor belt.
Two weeks later Luckie was told he could accept an undesirable relocation, be demoted, or resign. When he refused relocation or demotion he was fired.
On Dec. 2 Judge C. Richard Avery ruled that UPS had unlawfully retaliated against Luckie, and ordered that he be paid $123,200 in compensatory damages plus interest, attorney fees and court costs.