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Minnesota Jury Awards Former BNSF Employee $9.4 Million

On December 15, 2021, following an eight-day trial, a jury in St. Paul, Minnesota awarded Plaintiff Don Sanders, a former track inspector with BNSF Railway Company, over $9.4 million in damages. The jury found that Sanders was retaliated against in violation of the Federal Railway Safety Act after he reported hazardous safety conditions on the railroad and reported harassment and retaliation to BNSF’s Human Resources department.

Sanders was represented by Lucas Kaster and James Kaster from Minneapolis-based law firm Nichols Kaster, PLLP.

“I just want to thank the Court and the jury for their time,” said Plaintiff Don Sanders. “I waited five years for this moment, and I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to share the full story of what happened during my employment with BNSF.”

Sanders was hired by BNSF in 2007 and became a track inspector in BNSF’s Twin Cities division in 2010. As a qualified track inspector, Sanders was responsible for inspecting BNSF’s railway to ensure tracks were safe for train travel. Under the federal regulations that govern track inspections, Sanders was required to report defects in track rails and enter slow orders, which slow the speed of train travel over affected areas.

When Sanders reported the legally required defects and slow orders, BNSF managers repeatedly harassed and threatened Sanders for doing his job. Sanders filed multiple complaints with BNSF’s Human Resources department attempting to stop the harassment, but each was found to be unsubstantiated by the company. Four months after Sanders’ first complaint, the same BNSF manager who Sanders complained about to Human Resources charged Sanders with time theft and terminated his employment.

At the conclusion of trial, the jury found that Sanders’ termination was retaliation in violation of the Federal Railway Safety Act. The jury awarded Sanders $611,797 in lost wages, $250,000 in emotional distress, and $8,600,000 in punitive damages. The Court must still decide front pay, which is wage loss post-trial, and attorneys’ fees.

“This type of harassment and retaliation has no place in the workplace,” said Lucas J. Kaster of Nichols Kaster, PLLP, one of the attorneys representing Sanders. “The harassment Mr. Sanders experienced during his employment with BSNF is some of the worst I have seen in a work environment. Managers repeatedly screamed at, swore at, and threatened Mr. Sanders for simply doing what his job and the law required. I am very happy for Mr. Sanders and that he finally had the opportunity to have his full story heard by a jury. This verdict sends a loud message to all employers that harassment and retaliation will not go unnoticed.”  

The case was filed in Minnesota Federal Court on November 14, 2017. The case is titled Don Sanders v. BNSF Railway Co., Case Number: 17-cv-5106 ECT/KMM.

Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash