A Letcher County coal miner has filed a sixth discrimination case against a coal company he has been battling with over the last five years.
Charles Scott Howard of Roxana filed his newest complaint earlier this month after the trial regarding his May 16, 2011 discharge by Cumberland River Coal Company was heard in Pikeville before an Administrative Law Judge of the Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission. The United States Secretary of Labor filed that lawsuit on Howard’s behalf after investigating his claim that he was fired on May 16, 2011 in retaliation for making numerous safety complaints in recent years, including the filing of several safety discrimination lawsuits against Cumberland River Coal.
The government alleged in the lawsuit that CRCC discharged Howard just as he was on the verge of returning to work following a serious underground mining accident in July, 2010. Howard was taking annual refresher safety training in preparation for his May 18, 2010 return to work when he was pulled out of the training classroom and told that a doctor had determined that he could no longer work underground. When he called CRCC’s human resources department to ask what was going on, Howard was told that he no longer had a job.
According to Howard’s attorneys, Tony Oppegard of Lexington and Wes Addington of Whitesburg, the two-day trial ended March 15. Because the parties have to submit post-trial briefs (legal arguments) to the ALJ, the attorneys do not expect a decision in the case for several months.
Meanwhile, Howard filed another safety discrimination lawsuit against CRCC with the Review Commission in Washington, D.C. on March 19. According to the lawsuit, after he was discharged on May 16, 2011, an ALJ of the Commission ordered CRCC to temporarily reinstate Howard to his previous job while his case was being litigated.
Instead, the company asked Howard if he would agree to economic temporary reinstatement, which means that Howard would be paid for not working. In return, Howard would have to agree not to enter onto CRCC’s mine property. Therefore, on June 20, 2011, CRCC and Howard entered into an agreement whereby Howard was to be paid for 40 hours of straight time plus 20 hours of overtime every week. According to the agreement, CRCC was also required to provide Howard with all other benefits that he would receive if he were physically working at the mine, including health insurance and bonuses.
Howard claims in the lawsuit that from the time that CRCC started paying him the economic temporary reinstatement checks, the company failed to comply with the terms of the economic reinstatement agreement. Howard says that these failures were done to harass and retaliate against him for his many safety activities.
According to Howard’s attorneys, section 105(c) of the Mine Act protects miners against discharge and other types of discrimination for engaging in safetyrelated activities such as making safety complaints to a foreman or to federal or state mine inspectors, or for refusing to work in unsafe conditions. The law applies to both union and non-union miners.
Cumberland River Coal is a subsidiary of Arch Mining Inc., based in St. Louis. Arch will not comment on pending litigation.