Massey Ordered to Rehire West Virginia Mine Worker

June 21, 2010

An administrative law judge has ordered coal producer Massey Energy to rehire a miner who claims he was fired illegally for complaining about dangerous working conditions, federal officials said.

Ricky Lee Campbell gets his job back at one of Massey’s West Virginia mines until his case is resolved, the Mine Safety and Health Administration said.

“No miner should have to risk his life for his job,” MSHA director Joe Main said in a prepared statement. “The law is clear in its protections toward miners whose actions may lead to retaliation.”

Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said the decision was not a surprise and predicted the company will prevail eventually.

“He was terminated for acting un-safely, not for raising safety concerns,” Gillenwater said, explaining that Campbell damaged equipment, though he did not have any specifics.

Campbell was fired April 23 after he says he complained about mechanical problems with a piece of heavy equipment he operated at Massey’s Slip Ridge Cedar Grove Mine, MSHA said. He also worked briefly at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine and criticized safety conditions there in a television interview two days after 29 men died in an explosion at the Raleigh County operation.

The explosion is the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in 40 years and the subject of civil and criminal investigations.

Despite the temporary reinstatement, Campbell’s case remains unresolved. Administrative Law Judge Zane Gill ruled only that MSHA had established a nexus between Campbell’s protected activity and his suspension and later firing. The evidence “is sufficient to establish that mine management knew or should have known that Campbell was complaining about faulty equipment.”

Campbell had a low legal bar to clear, according to MSHA. Federal law says a miner is entitled to temporary reinstatement if a complaint is “not frivolously brought.”

MSHA said it hasn’t decided whether Massey violated the law nor whether it will file a discrimination case.

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