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A former railroad conductor was awarded a $1.66 million in a whistleblower case against BNSF Railway.

In February 2010, Curtis Rookaird, was working as a BNSF conductor in Custer, when he received a call to move 42 rail cars parked on a  side track. He said 40 of them had either butane or propane residue.

Through our job safety briefing we were going to perform a transfer train air brake test, said Rookaird. This action cost him his job, claims Rookaird.

“I believe I was fired because we took the time to test the air brakes on the cars and the local managers took exception. They were in a hurry to get the job done.”

Rookaird defended his decisions and reported the company to the federal government.

The verdict was unanimous; the jury ruled he was treated wrongly and awarded compensatory (damages), but the jury also found conduct by the railroad was both oppressive or malicious and went on to award an additional $200,000 in punitive damages.

BNSF insisted the firing was justified and not linked to the safety check. The company alleges Rookaird was fired over being dishonest on his time card and insubordination.

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