Armstrong Coal loses whistleblower case

Armstrong Coal has lost its law suit against former coal mine employer Reuben Shemwell, after a judge shut down the case and called it a "violation of whistleblower protections."

The coal company tried to sue the the Kentucky welder for filing a discrimination claim with the Secretary of Labor after he was fired in 2011.

The story, which the Huffington Post has been following, started when the Kentucky miner alleged he was fired because he complained about unsafe working conditions. Armstrong asserted the firing was due to Shemwell's excessive cellphone use.

When Shemwell filed his discrimination claim and asked for reinstatement, the company put forward the lawsuit, arguing that the employee's complaint constituted "wrongful use of civil proceedings."

In an interview with Tony Oppegard, a lawyer for Shemwell, the Huffington Post reported:

"The anti-discrimination provision of the Mine Act is a miner's ultimate way to protect his safety on the job," said Oppegard, who served as Shemwell's counsel alongside Wes Addington, of the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, and Matt Shepherd, who represented the Labor Department. "If companies could sue miners in state court when MSHA declines to prosecute their case, that anti-discrimination provision would be totally eviscerated. It would be a very rare miner who would file a complaint if he thought he could be sued for having filed it.

"If it can happen to Reuben," he added, "it can happen to any miner in the country."

With the case against him closed, Shemwell says he will pursue his original discrimination claim.

Creative Commons image by: Tulane Public Relations.