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More than 100 CSX Corp. employees who were fired or suspended for their use of federally-protected medical leave filed suit Tuesday in Maryland.
The suit comes on the heels of a suit that 46 fired employees filed in West Virginia in February, which also alleged CSX disciplined employees for fraud and dishonesty without evidence.
"While CSX employees understand that working on weekends and holidays comes with the territory, they did not anticipate having to work through serious illnesses, miss their children's births, or choose between caring for their sick loved ones and losing their jobs," reads the newly filed suit.
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The newest suit claims that CSX suspended or fired more than 100 employees while CSX investigated their use of the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal law that guarantees qualifying employees a set amount of leave with no fear of job loss.
The Jacksonville Business Journal previously obtained an internal CSX notice posted Dec. 28 stating that 845 train and engine employees took time off under FMLA over the holidays, about 9 percent of its active train and engine workforce. The notice warned against fraudulently using FMLA to get time off.
The suit claims that after this notice came "CSX's large-scale purge of its workforce."
"One by one, employees learned that their holiday gift from CSX for the exercise of federally-protected FMLA rights was a suspension or pink slip," the suit reads.
A suspended conductor previously told the Business Journal he was well within his allotted FMLA time, which varies by employee, and had never been issued a warning about using it before CSX suspended him. The conductor has been drawing railroad unemployment while he awaits CSX's findings. He said he invoked his FMLA rights due to complications with an ongoing medical condition.
"I could not have performed my job safely," he said of the time he took off, which coincided with Christmas and New Year's holidays. "My body doesn't know it's a holiday."
He noted a fellow employee who came in "sick as a dog" because he feared being fired if he used sick time.
"Everybody is scared," he said.
CSX declined to comment on why so many train and engine employees have used FMLA to take sick time but said it operates in accordance with union agreements.
The suit filed in Maryland contends that CSX's actions constitute a crackdown on the legal use of FMLA.
"CSX's genuine motivations were crystal clear," it states. "Through its actions, CSX sought to chill the lawful use of FMLA leave and punish workers who took FMLA leave."
Jeff Dingwall, one of the attorneys representing the former employees suing in West Virginia, further alleged that CSX's investigation of employees' FMLA use rubber-stamped the disciplinary actions.
"It's one of the most obscene processes I've ever heard of as far as being slanted towards the company and against the employee," Dingwall previously told the Business Journal.
He noted that about 95 percent of disciplinary investigations by Class I railroads find in favor of the railroads.
A third suit filed by Howard Adams, a CSX employee in Birmingham, Alabama, contends that he, too, was suspended without pay after invoking FMLA and was accused of dishonesty and fraud without evidence.
A fourth suit filed by William Parker, another Birmingham employee, claims that he was suspended without pay after using FMLA to care for his wife, who suffers from a chronic, progressive disease.
A fifth suit filed by Brian White, a Philadelphia employee, alleges White was disciplined for keeping his cell phone with him, a precaution in case his wife – who suffers from a chronic disease requiring frequent trips to the hospital – had an emergency. CSX had previously granted White permission to keep a phone with him because of FMLA, the suit alleges.
Several employees have told the Business Journal that morale at CSX is at an all-time low. CSX trimmed its workforce, including employees and contractors, by more than 4,000 last year and has committed to eliminating 2,000 more this year. Employees say they are being asked to do more, work longer hours and have fewer days off. Several have said it is nearly impossible to have personal days approved, and some have said they've even had sick days denied.
Nonetheless, CSX CEO Jim Foote has set a target of shedding 3,000 more employees by 2020.
The suit filed in Maryland claims that CSX employees are now "terrified" to use FMLA.
"Having received CSX's message loud and clear, CSX's employees now go to all possible lengths to avoid taking FMLA leave."