After a three-year court battle, including an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, BNSF has finally paid the entire judgment won by former BNSF engineer Mike Elliott—the payout: $1.814 million. This all began in 2011 when BNSF targeted whistleblower Mike Elliott who was faithfully advocating his function as Chairman of the Safety Board for BLET in Washington State. Finding numerous problems with overgrown vegetation blocking signal aspects and faulty signals between Seattle and Vancouver Washington, Mike Elliott brought these critical safety concerns to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Realizing the danger, the FRA immediately conducted a multi-week audit of the entire double main-line segment between Seattle and Vancouver. The FRA discovered hundreds of defects that BNSF was then made to correct on their aging signal and related track componentry. BNSF then targeted Mike Elliott and actually staged an “altercation” between himself and a manager, resulting in bogus charges made against Mike and ultimately his termination from a long and productive career.
Mike hired Jim Vucinovich of Rossi Vucinovich and took BNSF to court where he won one of the largest whistleblower verdicts ever under the Federal Safety Act (FRSA, Title 49 section 20109): $1M in compensatory damages and another $250,000 in punitive damages, believed to be the first time ever that BNSF was tagged for punitive damages, which are meant to punish the corporation. After tacking on attorney fees, and an unsuccessful appeal to the 9th Circuit, the judgment grew to $1.8M.
Although Mike is very pleased that justice has been served in this instance, he and the team at Rossi Vucinovich will continue to advocate for safety and for the protection of whistleblowers for as long as multi-billion-dollar entities attempt to silence individuals who advocate for safety and critical safety improvements in the workplace.
See the news coverage surrounding the verdict and whistleblowers: