NJ Transit Workers Contest Post-Crash Safety Policies

Overhead photograph of the damaged controlling cab car of a train that crashed into New Jersey’s Hoboken Terminal in 2016 . A beam in from the station is shown in the front portion of the car. (Photo via NTSB)

NEWARK (CN) – New Jersey train conductors brought a class action Wednesday to protest new safety policies that the state transit authority adopted after last year’s fatal crash at Hoboken Terminal.

Represented by Schall and Barasch, locomotive engineer Anthony Alleyne is the lead plaintiff in the complaint that NJ Transit faces in Essex County Superior Court.

The suit comes just over a year after a Pascack Valley Line train originating from Spring Valley, N.Y., crashed into a platform at busy Hoboken Terminal at around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 29, 2016.

Hoboken is among NJ Transit’s busiest terminals, with about 15,000 people passing through every day. The crash left one woman dead and 108 injured, and it caused a partial ceiling collapse at the station.

The engineer of that train, Thomas Gallagher, was later found to have undiagnosed sleep apnea.

In Wednesday’s complaint, Alleyne claims that NJ Transit began discriminatorily enforcing its sleep-apnea-testing policy in the immediate aftermath of the crash, using its employees’ weights, neck circumferences and BMIs, short for body mass indices, to as testing metrics.

“As a result, as many as 100 engineers and conductors were pulled out of service after their routine certification physical examinations and were subjected to required sleep studies and costly treatment at their own expense,” according to the complaint.

NJ Transit Pascack Valley Line train #1614 crashed at the Hoboken Terminal on Sept. 29, 2016, causing the damage shown in these photos. (NTSB Photo by Chris O’Neil)

Alleyne says he was scheduled for his yearly physical on Oct. 5, 2016, and was informed afterward by NJ Transit’s doctors that his BMI was over 35. As a result, he says he was taken out of service without pay until an overnight sleep study could be completed.

He claims that he completed an overnight sleep study on Oct. 11, 2016, and was diagnosed with “mild sleep apnea” three days later. As a result, Alleyne claims he was required by NJ Transit’s doctors to begin using a machine known as CPAP, short for continuous positive airway pressure, and was also required to participate in another sleep study.

Alleyne then got a second opinion from doctors unaffiliated with NJ Transit. Though they called a CPAP unnecessary for Alleyne given his mild sleep apnea, according to the complaint, NJ Transit allegedly told the engineer that he must wear the CPAP nightly or risk being pulled out of service for noncompliance.

Alleyne says he was eventually reinstated on Nov. 9 but has not received payment for wages he lost while out of service, or costs associated with the mandatory sleep-apnea testing and treatment. He claims that NJ Transit’s enforcement of the sleep apnea policy discriminates against heavier workers.

“Once an obese NJ Transit employee is diagnosed with sleep apnea, no matter how mild, he or she must demonstrate compliance with wearing the CPAP machine each night or risk being removed from service for noncompliance,” Aleyne says.

Additionally, “locomotive engineers and conductors were not paid for the time spent out of service for the required sleep apnea testing, nor were they compensated for travel time to and from the required testing, or the cost of the mandatory testing and treatment,” the complaint continues.

Alleyne wants to represent individuals who were removed from service with NJ Transit and required to submit to sleep-apnea testing, while employed by NJ Transit, at any time from Sept. 29, 2016, to the present.

A representative at NJ Transit’s press office declined to comment on the pending litigation, which seeks damages for disability discrimination.

Alleyne is represented by Patricia Barasch with Schall and Barasch in Moorestown, N.J., and by the Minneapolis firm Nichols Kaster.

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