CHEYENNE — A shovel operator at a Wyoming coal mine who says she was fired for raising safety concerns has won reinstatement from an administrative law judge, but her former employer is appealing the case.
Judges for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals have not yet ruled on a request by Cordero Mining to postpone Cindy Clapp's reinstatement during appeal. Attorneys for the federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission filed a response to Cordero's request saying they didn't object to the postponement, however.
Clapp worked at the Cordero Rojo Mine near Gillette for 28 years before being fired in March 2010. She has been on paid leave since a settlement that a judge approved in June 2010.
Cordero Rojo is an open pit mine. Clapp operated a huge shovel with a bucket large enough to hold a pickup truck and a crane 60 feet high.
Her job was to load up house-sized dump trucks with coal.
An administrative law judge last month found that Cordero violated the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act by firing Clapp after she raised concerns about safety at the mine including:
— Placement of computer-type screens she said blocked the view of shovel and bulldozer operators;
— Ignored requests for water to suppress dust she said was hindering visibility in the mine;
— Procedures for unloading overloaded dump trucks she described to supervisors as dangerous.
Judge Thomas McCarthy ordered Cordero to reinstate Clapp, reimburse her for lost income, and to pay a $40,000 penalty. The penalty was twice the amount sought by federal mine safety officials on Clapp's behalf.
"I conclude that Clapp engaged in activity protected by the Act, and that her protected activity motivated Cordero to terminate her employment," wrote McCarthy, an administrative law judge, in his Dec. 5 decision.
Cloud Peak Energy subsidiary Cordero appealed the ruling to federal court last week. A spokeswoman for the Gillette-based company declined to comment because it is a pending legal action.
Clapp did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Every miner in the U.S. has a right to identify hazardous conditions and to refuse to work in an unsafe environment without fear of discrimination or retaliation, Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph Main said in a release.
"The Mine Act allows miners to exercise this right without fear of being fired, demoted, harassed, transferred, refused employment or suffering any loss of wages," he said.