Miner Reuben Shemwell Sued By Armstro...

Miner Reuben Shemwell Sued By Armstrong Coal

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little dookie ball

Hawesville, KY

#1 Feb 1, 2013
Read all about it here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/kent...

WASHINGTON -- Within the last 17 months, Kentucky miner Reuben Shemwell got fired from his welding job, sued by his former employer and effectively blackballed from the local mines -- troubles that he claims all started when he spoke up about working conditions he considered unsafe.

With the miner now wrapped in a messy legal battle with his former employer, an affiliate of Armstrong Coal, what happens to Shemwell's case could impact all U.S. miners who claim they've been fired or otherwise punished for blowing the whistle in what remains one of the nation's most dangerous industries.

"I've been representing miners in safety discrimination cases for more than 30 years, and this is the first time I know of anywhere in the country where a company has sued a miner for filing a discrimination complaint," said Shemwell's attorney, Tony Oppegard. "We think the reason they filed [the suit] was to intimidate him and to intimidate other miners."

Shemwell's troubles started in September 2011. After his year and a half as a welder at mining properties in Western Kentucky, Armstrong management fired the 32-year-old for what supervisors deemed "excessive cell phone use" on the job -- an allegation Shemwell denied. Furthermore, Shemwell argued that the cell phone charge was merely a pretext for his firing. In subsequent court filings, he claimed the real reason he was canned was that he'd complained about safety problems at his worksite.

According to Shemwell's filings with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the federal agency responsible for protecting miners, Shemwell had refused to work in confined spaces where he'd been overcome by fumes, and he'd complained to a superior that the respirators provided to welders were inadequate. Shortly before Shemwell was fired, he and a colleague also refused to work on an excavator while it was in operation, according to filings.

Not long after Shemwell filed his discrimination complaint, MSHA officials tried to inspect the site where he'd been working. According to court documents, Armstrong chose to shut the site down rather than subject it to MSHA oversight, which management said would be too costly. Ten workers were laid off.

Shemwell's discrimination complaint soon cleared the first legal hurdle for mine safety discrimination cases, when a judge ruled the complaint was clearly not frivolous, given how soon after his safety complaints he was fired for excessive cell use. The judge ordered the mine to temporarily reinstate Shemwell at his job as the case moved forward.

But federal officials still had to decide whether or not to pursue Shemwell's discrimination complaint against Armstrong. In the end, the agency decided to drop it, and Shemwell's reinstatement was then invalidated.

What happened next shocked Shemwell and his attorney, Oppegard. Armstrong filed suit against Shemwell in Kentucky state court, claiming that the miner had filed a "false discrimination claim" against them, and that his claim amounted to "wrongful use of civil proceedings" -- akin to a frivolous lawsuit.

In their complaint, Armstrong said Shemwell racked up three warnings for excessive cell phone use before they terminated him, and the company noted that MSHA ultimately decided not to pursue Shemwell's discrimination complaint. By claiming the firing was discriminatory, Armstrong claims, Shemwell cost the company "unnecessary and substantial costs" through litigation.

"Shemwell did not file his Discrimination Claim for the purpose of exercising any valid legal right," the suit against Shemwell claims. "Despite Shemwell's knowledge that his own misconduct was the sole reason for the termination of his employment, Shemwell desired to cause damage to Plaintiffs due to their termination of his employment."

(Continued)
little dookie ball

Hawesville, KY

#2 Feb 1, 2013
(Resumed)

Armstrong Coal had revenues of nearly $300 million in 2011. A company spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Oppegard maintains that Armstrong filed the suit expressly to send a message to Shemwell and other mine employees who speak up about safety problems. The filing, he argued, was what's become known as a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," or SLAPP suit, which is meant to preemptively intimidate detractors through with the threat of legal costs.

MSHA lawyers seem to agree. The agency filed a complaint against Armstrong earlier this month alleging that Armstrong's filing of the lawsuit against Shemwell was an act of "retaliation and/or discrimination," and that it was "an attempt to discourage miners from filing discrimination complaints."

"Miners, who wish to avoid similar treatment, will be hesitant from asserting their rights," MSHA's attorney said in the complaint.

Spelled out in the federal Mine Safety and Health Act, a miner's ability to raise concerns without fear of retaliation is the backbone of modern mine safety law. Any miner who claims he or she was fired or disciplined for raising such issues -- so long as the claim isn't "frivolous" -- is entitled to temporary reinstatement on the job as due process takes its course.

According to Oppegard, who's handled more than a hundred such cases, miners can't freely bring discrimination complaints to federal officials if they have to worry about their employer suing them after unsuccessful complaints. Most miners simply don't have the resources to defend themselves against well-funded corporate lawyers, he said.

"People will be afraid to file complaints," Oppegard said. "If Armstrong Coal is successful, then other mining companies, whether it's coal or copper or gold or whatever, they'll use the same tactic.... The anti-discrimination provision of mine [safety law] will be essentially worthless."

Shemwell said he wouldn't be able to afford defending himself without the help of Oppegard and the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, a Kentucky-based legal aid group for miners. He also said his legal fight with Armstrong has become public knowledge in his home of Muhlenberg County, making it hard to find work with other mining companies.

"Talk goes around the mines," Shemwell explained. "You hear gossip -- you hear this, you hear that."

At the moment, Shemwell's living in a house with his brothers and taking odd jobs laying carpet to make ends meet. Aside from mining, there aren't many good jobs in Shemwell's area -- "mostly burger joints and gas stations," he said -- and he's worried that his fight with Armstrong could end up jeopardizing what had been a promising career.

"We, as miners, have rights," Shemwell said. "They just don't want us to know about them."
good lord

Tucker, GA

#3 Feb 3, 2013
This is too funny! A dumb a$& who thought he was gonna sue lololololo u'd better have Ur ducks in a row b4 u do something as idiotic as this people!!! Learn from Reuben, the idiot!
Rrrrrr

Auburn, KY

#4 Feb 3, 2013
He is a good guy. He was wanting to do what was right.
Old Man River

Greenville, KY

#6 Feb 4, 2013
Rrrrrr wrote:
He is a good guy. He was wanting to do what was right.
Haha. If you mean being a cry baby because he got fired for talking on his phone waaaaaayyyy to much at work and then, afterwards trying to get back at the people who fired him by making up safety violation stories, subsequently putting the others miners at Armstrong in jeopardy by potentially having the company saddled with a shit ton of inspections...then yeah, he was doing what was right.
concerned in muhlenberg

Ellijay, GA

#7 Feb 4, 2013
Rrrrrr wrote:
He is a good guy. He was wanting to do what was right.
This story is very disturbing. A rich scab coal company who was probably in violation of the law get off easy, and an innocent coal miner who tried to improve a hazardous work site is being punished. I admire this coal miner for standing up against this scab outfit. MSHA is the only avenue this man had, and he was fired and sued by this evil scab bunch of no count bastards. I only hope it has a happy ending for this brave miner.
concerned in muhlenberg

Ellijay, GA

#8 Feb 4, 2013
Old Man River wrote:
<quoted text>
Haha. If you mean being a cry baby because he got fired for talking on his phone waaaaaayyyy to much at work and then, afterwards trying to get back at the people who fired him by making up safety violation stories, subsequently putting the others miners at Armstrong in jeopardy by potentially having the company saddled with a shit ton of inspections...then yeah, he was doing what was right.
You sound like a typical brown nose, suck ass scab, in the worst degree.
concerned in muhlenberg

Ellijay, GA

#9 Feb 4, 2013
concerned in muhlenberg wrote:
<quoted text>You sound like a typical brown nose, suck ass scab, in the worst degree.
I totally agree.
uk fan

Horse Cave, KY

#10 Feb 4, 2013
U agree with your own post? Wtf
fertle mertle

United States

#11 Feb 5, 2013
Lol that stupid sob doesn't know what he/she is doin or saying half the time...apparantly it forgot to change it's username before it "agreed" with it's own post...CIM stay off this post, u have absolutely no idea what ur talking about.."scabs" really...rather be a scab than a nonworking (u can't possibly work bcause Ur on topix alllllll day) Obama worshipping idiot!!! Ur the scab "nosey in muhlenberg"
Its me

Madisonville, KY

#12 Feb 5, 2013
Put ur name on here if ur gonna talk shit!!!!
Or go say that stuff to shemwell's face??? But ur not man enuf...!!!!
concerned in muhlenberg

Calhoun, KY

#13 Feb 5, 2013
Old Man River wrote:
<quoted text>
Haha. If you mean being a cry baby because he got fired for talking on his phone waaaaaayyyy to much at work and then, afterwards trying to get back at the people who fired him by making up safety violation stories, subsequently putting the others miners at Armstrong in jeopardy by potentially having the company saddled with a shit ton of inspections...then yeah, he was doing what was right.
This scabby ass company needs a shit ton of inspections. I can only imagine what a suck ass scab you must be. I imagine no miner is safe around you, you seem like the type to spill your guts to get other miners in trouble. You probably need a good ass kicking. If I could I would cause armstrong to get double the amount of inspections. What Armstrong needs is a group of miners to grow a pair and go UMWA.
Old Man River

Greenville, KY

#14 Feb 7, 2013
concerned in muhlenberg wrote:
<quoted text>This scabby ass company needs a shit ton of inspections. I can only imagine what a suck ass scab you must be. I imagine no miner is safe around you, you seem like the type to spill your guts to get other miners in trouble. You probably need a good ass kicking. If I could I would cause armstrong to get double the amount of inspections. What Armstrong needs is a group of miners to grow a pair and go UMWA.
WOW...you totally discredited every thing you have ever written by getting caught trying to agree with your own post and forgetting to change your user name...wow...what a sociopath.

Also, very telling of someone whose only rebuttal reverts to name calling. Just as reference, a scab is a word made up by lazy ass union members who are mad someone would do their job at less pay. By your definition 89% of hard working Americans are scabs.(Only 11% of american workers are union members). While your setting at home, complementing your own posts on Topix us "Scabs" are out here keeping electricity running to your computer.
concerned in muhlenberg

Calhoun, KY

#15 Feb 7, 2013
Old Man River wrote:
<quoted text>
WOW...you totally discredited every thing you have ever written by getting caught trying to agree with your own post and forgetting to change your user name...wow...what a sociopath.
Also, very telling of someone whose only rebuttal reverts to name calling. Just as reference, a scab is a word made up by lazy ass union members who are mad someone would do their job at less pay. By your definition 89% of hard working Americans are scabs.(Only 11% of american workers are union members). While your setting at home, complementing your own posts on Topix us "Scabs" are out here keeping electricity running to your computer.
Again, you appear to be a low life, brown nose scab. I would hate to be working with you. I'm sure no bosses zipper is safe when you are around. You better thank all union people in this country for getting you a decent wage. Surely you don't think this scab company is paying a decent wage because of the goodness of their heart. They fear good people uniting and becoming a union if they don't pay a decent wage. Of course a scab like you wouldn't understand that.
Truth

Central City, KY

#16 Feb 7, 2013
This a$$**** got what he deserved...
just for the record

Greenville, KY

#17 Feb 7, 2013
Old Man River wrote:
<quoted text>
WOW...you totally discredited every thing you have ever written by getting caught trying to agree with your own post and forgetting to change your user name...wow...what a sociopath.
Also, very telling of someone whose only rebuttal reverts to name calling. Just as reference, a scab is a word made up by lazy ass union members who are mad someone would do their job at less pay. By your definition 89% of hard working Americans are scabs.(Only 11% of american workers are union members). While your setting at home, complementing your own posts on Topix us "Scabs" are out here keeping electricity running to your computer.
If you had a union at your wonderful mine, you would not be making less money than a miner did in 1985 doing the same job.. say what you want, but it is fact..
concerned in muhlenberg

Calhoun, KY

#18 Feb 7, 2013
just for the record wrote:
<quoted text>
If you had a union at your wonderful mine, you would not be making less money than a miner did in 1985 doing the same job.. say what you want, but it is fact..
you are waisting your breath. The average scab believes unions has no bearing on their wages and benefits. I'm just proud I stood day after day on the picket lines so ass-wipes like these can get a decent wage. They actually believe they would be making these wages if there had never been a union coal mine. You damn right I'm proud of the UMWA.

Since: Jun 12

Location hidden

#19 Feb 7, 2013
just for the record wrote:
<quoted text>
If you had a union at your wonderful mine, you would not be making less money than a miner did in 1985 doing the same job.. say what you want, but it is fact..
Which is part of the reason the union mines closed. Workers were WAY overpaid and were on strike too many times for too long. But I've found arguing with the privileged is pointless.

Since: Jun 12

Location hidden

#20 Feb 7, 2013
concerned in muhlenberg wrote:
<quoted text>you are waisting your breath. The average scab believes unions has no bearing on their wages and benefits. I'm just proud I stood day after day on the picket lines so ass-wipes like these can get a decent wage. They actually believe they would be making these wages if there had never been a union coal mine. You damn right I'm proud of the UMWA.
And the UMWA was proud for you lining their pockets while they were causing the unemployment of so many miners. Beat that chest with pride you ignorant sob.
concerned in muhlenberg

Calhoun, KY

#21 Feb 7, 2013
Well- wrote:
<quoted text>
And the UMWA was proud for you lining their pockets while they were causing the unemployment of so many miners. Beat that chest with pride you ignorant sob.
Now the king scab pops his ugly head out. I'll give you credit you are really big on low life, no count republicans that's only goals are to screw the middle class, and suck the rich, as well as the rich scab mines that exploits their employees. You are a big pile of stinking shit, and I imagine not very many people wants to be around your stinking conservative scabby ass. How can you stand yourself. Scabs sets the bar low, so I guess I understand. I have a union pension, A medical card, and pride knowing I'm a life long member of the UMWA. These scabs have nothing except their next paycheck, what a damn shame. And the rich scab owners gets richer.

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