By Mike Lillis - 06/18/10 03:33 PM EDT
An administrative law judge this week ordered Massey Energy to rehire a coal miner let go by the company after he complained of safety conditions.
Ricky Lee Campbell, a shuttle car driver at a Massey mine in southern West Virginia, was fired in April, less than three weeks after notifying managers that the car had faulty brakes. But federal law prohibits mining companies from retaliating against workers who complain of unsafe conditions, and Campbell filed a complaint with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, a branch of the Labor Department.
On Thursday, Administrative Law Judge L. Zane Gill — a member of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission — ruled that "there is sufficient nexus between Campbell's protected activity and the adverse action" to reinstate his job until a more thorough review is conducted.
"[M]ine management knew or should have known that Campbell was complaining about faulty equipment," Gill wrote.
Massey, the largest coal producer in Appalachia, has been under fire for its safety procedures since April 5, when the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., exploded, killing 29 miners. Mine experts suspect that the blast was caused by an accumulation of methane, combined with the presence of combustible coal dust — two conditions that mandatory ventilation systems are designed to prevent.
Federal, state and independent investigators are currently scouring the mine for the cause of the blast.