Secretary of Labor o/b/o Darcy White v. Prairie State Generating Co. | LAKE 2021-0158 | September 24, 2021 | ALJ McCarthy

After a former miner filed a discrimination complaint the mine operator filed a request for a hearing regarding her temporary reinstatement. ALJ McCarthy held the temporary reinstatement hearing on July 20, 2021 and during the hearing the parties reached an agreement on the material terms of an economic settlement. On July 29, 2021, ALJ McCarthy approved the Joint Motion for Economic Reinstatement and ordered the Secretary to complete his investigation and make a determination on the complaint within 30 days.

On August 25, 2021, the Secretary filed a motion stating he would not be able to complete the investigation within 30 days because the miner filed an addendum to her complaint adding an additional party – the staffing agency she was employed by which routed her to the mine operator. Interestingly, the mine operator had argued at the temporary reinstatement hearing that the staffing agency was a necessary party to action. The Secretary, however, opposed adding the staffing agency as a party because “the preliminary investigation revealed no evidence that [the staffing agency] engaged in any discriminatory conduct, and that the complete relief sought required only Prairie State as Respondent.”

The mine operator argued that temporary economic reinstatement should be dissolved because of the Secretary’s failure to complete the investigation within the statutory 90-day period referenced in Section 105(c)(3) of the Mine Act or the additional 30-day period provided by the administrative law judge.

While ALJ McCarthy was sympathetic to the mine operator’s arguments, he ultimately denied the motion to dissolve temporary economic reinstatement “because the law gives the Secretary a great deal of flexibility in meeting its deadlines.” That being said, ALJ McCarthy did note “[b]y its very nature, a temporary reinstatement was intended to be temporary, and evidence of undue delay by the Secretary, along with actual prejudice to the Respondent, may be grounds for a court to take extraordinary action.”

However, ALJ McCarthy noted this case is not like the normal Section 105(c) discrimination case. First, the former miner had not received legal advice at the time she filed her complaint about the distinctions between the staffing agency and the mine operator. Once she received legal advice, she immediately filed her amended complaint. Second, as soon as the Secretary received the amended complaint, it immediately began requesting documents and interviews from the staffing agency. Thus, while the Secretary should have completed his investigation in a more timely manner, the employment relationship in this case made it more complicated for the investigation to be completed. As a result, ALJ McCarthy denied the motion to dissolve the temporary economic reinstatement.

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