Mine Whistleblower Trial Set for Tomorrow

by Erica Peterson on March 13, 2012

An eastern Kentucky coal miner who says he was fired for raising safety concerns will have his case heard by a judge in Pikeville tomorrow.

Charles Scott Howard is a 52-year-old coal miner from Harlan County. Over the past few years, he’s become an outspoken advocate for mine safety rights, speaking up at federal hearings and raising safety concerns to inspectors and mine foremen. In May, he was fired from his job at Cumberland River Coal, an Arch Coal subsidiary.

Howard and the U.S. Department of Labor are accusing Cumberland River Coal of discrimination. The company contends it fired Howard because he suffered a head injury in 2010 and could no longer work. But Howard contends he was cleared for work by a physician.

Tony Oppegard is a Lexington-based mine safety attorney. He’s representing Howard, and says he believes his client was fired because of his role as a whistleblower, which is illegal.

“Scott’s a very unusual miner. He’s working in a non-UMWA mine where you have very few rights, but you still have your federal safety rights and he uses them,” Oppegard said. “He insists the company do things the right way.”

Howard’s case will be heard by an administrative law judge. A spokeswoman for Arch Coal said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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