1. Employees and Employers Covered
To be an employee covered under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), one must be a driver of a commercial motor vehicle (including independent contractors), a mechanic, a freight handler, or an individual that is not an employer who is involved in activities directly affecting commercial motor vehicle safety or security. Employees of public transportation agencies or general railroads are not covered under this Act. Commercial motor vehicles are defined as “any self-propelled or towed vehicle used on the highway in commerce principally to transport cargo or passengers.” A vehicle covered under the Act must have a gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, be designed to transport more than 10 passengers (including the driver), or be a placarded hazardous material vehicle. To be an employer under the Act one must be a “person engaged in a business affecting commerce that owns or leases a commercial motor vehicle in connection with that business, or assigns an employee to operate the vehicle in commerce.” The STAA does not cover the Government, a State, or a political subdivision of a State.
2. Protected Activities
A person may not discharge or discriminate against an employee, because the employee (or another person at the employee’s request) has filed a complaint, or begun a proceeding related to a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety or security regulation, standard, or order. A person may not discharge or discriminate against an employee because (s)he refuses to operate a vehicle because the operation violates a regulation, standard, or order of the U.S. related to commercial motor vehicle safety, health, or security, or the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety or security condition. A person may not discharge or discriminate against an employee because the employee cooperates, is about to cooperate with a safety or security investigation by the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the National Transportation Safety Board. A person may not discharge or discriminate against an employee for furnishing information to the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the National Transportation Safety Board about facts relating to an accident or incident resulting in injury or death to an individual or damage to property in connection with commercial motor vehicle transportation.
An employee’s apprehension of serious injury is reasonable only if a reasonable individual in the circumstances then confronting the employee would conclude that the hazardous safety or security condition establishes a real danger of accident, injury or serious impairment to health. To qualify for protection, the employee must have sought correction of the hazardous condition from the employer, and have been unable to obtain such correction.
3. Proving Your Case
Any employee alleging a violation under this Act may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labort through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), no later than 180 days after the alleged violation occurred. An employee must establish that (s)he engaged in a protected activity, which was a contributing factor of the unfavorable action taken by the employer. If a plaintiff successfully establishes his/her claim, an employer may avoid liability by demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same unfavorable action in absence of the employee’s protected activity.
4. Available Remedies
If an employee’s whistleblower claim under the STAA is successful, an employee may be entitled to remedies that include reinstatement with previous seniority and benefits, back pay with interest, compensatory damages, including compensation for special damages, expert witness fees, and reasonable attorneys’ fees, punitive damages in certain cases, but not to exceed $250,000.
5. Time to File: 180 days
If you believe you have a whistleblower case under the STAA, please contact an attorney at Sidkoff, Pincus and Green, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.