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No longer adrift: State employment laws may apply on water, too

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Employees who work on Indiana waterways are still protected by some Indiana employment laws. That holds true even if those employees work on a river barge otherwise governed by federal admiralty laws.

Recent case: Dave Robinson worked as a deckhand on a Mississippi River barge. On three occasions, he reported to management that crew members had used illegal drugs while on duty. Shortly after the third report, his employer fired him.

Robinson sued, claiming he was protected under two state laws. The barge owners claimed that since the barge operated on navigable waters, federal admiralty laws were the only laws that applied.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It said that federal laws do not preempt state laws protecting the public from unsafe acts on the waterways. Robinson will get a chance to prove to a jury that he was fired because of his complaints, and not some other legitimate reason. (Robinson v. Alter Barge Line, No. 07-1647, 7th Cir., 2008)

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