Union Railroad Company is among the defendants facing a proposed class action lawsuit in which a former employee alleges the Pittsburgh company has improperly targeted and terminated certain workers due to their pension status. The case’s filing comes on the heels of a January 2020 lawsuit that alleges defendants Union Railroad, Transtar, United States Steel Corporation and Smart Transportation Division have engaged in a discriminatory “pretextual scheme” to weed out senior employees due to their age.
“Plaintiff and other Pension Employees were the last group of employees with ties to the ‘Old Guard,’ a term colloquially used to refer to longtime employees who believed that working at Union Railroad would provide a six-figure salary and full retirement benefits, including full pension benefits, and were afforded small perks such as the ability to sleep during ‘off-peak’ work hours,” the complaint reads. “Instead Plaintiff and other Pension Employees were subjected to a pattern and practice of discrimination on the basis of their pension status then abruptly terminated.”
Filed in Pennsylvania, the 20-page lawsuit claims that the defendants around May 2012 began firing Union Railroad employees who were part of U.S. Steel’s “coveted” Carnegie Pension Fund. Targeted workers, the case says, were forced to sign “last chance” agreements initially used only by employees with substance abuse issues. Further, the suit alleges the defendants took part in manipulating Union Railroad’s demerits system in an effort to issue a “disproportionate number” of such to U.S. Steel pension plan participants so they could be fired for cause.
According to the case, Union Railroad employees with less seniority than proposed class members who have committed “the same or comparable offenses” have routinely received no demerits, or substantially fewer, and have been given opportunities to expunge negative checks from their records over time. In many cases, the lawsuit continues, proposed class members have received demerits for technical offenses Union Railroad has “historically exercised discretion to ignore.”
With particular regard to Smart Transportation Division’s role in the “pretextual scheme,” the lawsuit claims the union balked at fairly representing Union Railroad employees at grievance hearings and/or arbitrations. Proposed class members were “overwhelmingly” denied recourse in part due to this lack of adequate representation, which the lawsuit alleges was part of a “concerted effort” among the defendants to “fabricate or exaggerate” bases upon which older workers have been terminated.
All told, the suit charges that “a significant and disproportionate majority” of pension-aged Union Railroad workers were terminated before they reached key vesting periods of five, 10 and 15 years under U.S. Steel’s Carnegie Pension fund. As the lawsuit tells it, the plaintiff and roughly 90 other former Union Railroad employees were victimized by the defendants’ conduct.