A proposed class action lawsuit has been filed against Union Railroad Company, Transtar, United States Steel Corporation and Smart Transportation Division, a union, over what a former employee alleges is a “pretextual scheme” initiated in 2012 to fire Union Railroad employees over the age of 40. The case claims the plaintiff and approximately 90 other Union Railroad workers were victimized by “a discriminatory pattern and practice designed to weed out Senior Employees on the basis of their age.”
Filed in Pennsylvania’s Western District, the 19-page complaint claims the defendants’ scheme included forcing those considered to be senior employees, i.e. older than 40, to sign “last chance” agreements informally used to manage disciplinary action for workers with substance abuse problems. Using these “last chance” agreements, the defendants, the lawsuit says, then manipulated Union Railroad’s demerits system—which was created to address rule and policy violations in a consistent and fair manner—in order to issue a “disproportionate” number of demerits to senior employees so they could be fired for cause. Employees who reach 100 demerits are subject to termination, the suit says.
Under a “last chance” agreement, the case claims, proposed class members could continue to work for Union Railroad yet would face immediate dismissal with no right of appeal should they be accused of another offense. This runs contrary to the Collective Bargaining Agreement under which proposed class members and the defendants operated, the case says, as “last chance” agreements expressly provided that Smart Transportation Division, a part of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union that the suit says represented senior Union Railroad employees, “relinquished all rights” to investigate or represent accused employees. Smart Transportation Division “was complicit in the scheme,” the plaintiff alleges.
Further, the suit charges that while younger employees have committed the same or comparable offenses as the plaintiff and other senior employees, they “routinely” received no or fewer demerits from Union Railroad, or were given an opportunity to expunge write-ups from their records over time. Senior employees often received what the plaintiff says are demerits for “technical offenses” that Union Railroad had ignored in the past.
Those who attempted to fight their demerits at grievance or arbitration hearings lacked adequate representation and were “overwhelmingly” denied relief due to a “concerted effort” by the defendants to “fabricate or exaggerate” the reasons behind an individual’s termination, the lawsuit claims. In other scenarios, Union Railroad held back potentially exculpatory information from senior employees, the case alleges. Moreover, according to the complaint, law firms who represented proposed class members in such hearings often advised that there was nothing they could do, and Smart Transportation Division largely accepted the bases for proposed class members’ dismissals rather than rebut any allegations.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff worked as a brakeman for Union Railroad for nearly 12 years and most recently as a conductor/remote control operator before he was fired in March 2019 at 57 years old. The man claims in the suit that on February 11, 2019, he was accused by Union Railroad of committing a “cardinal rule” violation when he allowed his engine to enter a “red zone” without obtaining clearance. Union Railroad’s only supporting witness was the plaintiff’s supervisor, the lawsuit says, and though the man requested video from an engine camera that would have shown definitively whether a violation occurred, the defendant refused to produce such. The plaintiff says he was assessed 60 demerits for the offense and was fired on March 8.