Former welder fired and sued for wanting to stay safe - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Former welder fired and sued for wanting to stay safe

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MUHLENBERG CO., KY (WFIE) -

A former Muhlenberg County miner has been fired, and then sued.

Reuben Shemwell says its all because he wanted to keep himself and his co-workers safe.

"It kind of blew my mind. I wasn't expecting it," Shemwell tells us.

The case has been before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and recently in the media nationwide.

Shemwell was fired from his mining job at an Armstrong Coal Affiliate in Muhlenburg County in the fall of 2011. He sued the company then found himself in a larger legal fight.

He had some safety concerns according to Shemwell's attorney, Tony Oppegard.

"Included complaints about inadequate respirators while he was welding," says Oppegard.

Oppegard says MSHA investigated those claims and determined there was no safety violation. Soon after, Shemwell lost his job as a welder.

Armstrong Coal's attorney, Mason Miller says Shemwell was fired for 'excessive cell phone use' at work.

"Which is an unsafe practice," Miller exclaims. "His cell phone records show that that's why he was terminated."

Shemwell thinks it was used to intimidate him and other miners from protecting themselves. He sued, then Armstrong Coal filed a counter-suit.

Now MSHA has filed a claim of their own against the coal company saying their lawsuit should never have been filed.

"We simply think it's unfortunate that the act of one former employee who was terminated for a poor job performance is reflecting badly on the other nine-hundred plus hard workers," says Miller.

Shemwell's attorney says he hopes the case doesn't deter miners from bringing safety matters to light.

"It's intimidating to think 'well, if MSHA turns my case down, which I have filed in good faith and in honest belief that I was discriminated against, that I could be sued for damages," says Oppegard.

Shemwell says "to stand up for your rights and don't let them scare you. When it's unsafe, don't do it, no matter what it is."

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