North Carolina carrier to appeal $1 million OSHA fine

Gaines Motor Lines plans to ask a Dept. of Labor administrative law judge to overturn the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s order that it pay just over $1 million to four drivers the agency said were fired in alleged violation of whistleblower protections following their participation in a Dept. of Transportation safety audit. The order also requires the Hickory, NC-based Gaines to reinstate the three drivers who are still living.

The company termed the OSHA order as “factually flawed, based on unnamed sources and hearsay, depriving it of the right of confrontation and being completely arbitrary and capricious.”

Gaines charged that the OSHA inquiry in early 2012 ignored the fact that the company was in the midst of a reduction in force that began in 2011 due to economic conditions that forced it to pull 15 trucks off the road and lay off or terminate 12 to 14 drivers.

“Additionally, OSHA overlooked the fact that the DOT investigation found that Gaines drivers were

falsifying logs and timesheets and had poor driving records,” Gaines said in a formal statement. “The DOT investigator recommended that Gaines consider discharging some drivers because of safety concerns.”

Three of the four employees who complained to OSHA were terminated as part of the reduction in force due to their safety records or violations of company policies and procedures, such as poor on-time delivery or interaction with other employees or customers, Gaines said, adding that one employee didn’t even participate in the DOT audit as OSHA had alleged. One employee had a felony conviction, and another was offered a full-time position with the company but requested to be laid off instead, Gaines said.

OSHA’s findings were “a spider web of innuendo, unjustified inferences, hearsay, record misinterpretation and absurd conclusions,” said the company’s attorney, William Webb.

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