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Court Orders Kentucky Mine Operator to Abandon Lawsuit

A Kentucky coal company must withdraw a lawsuit it filed against a former worker who complained he was discriminated against, an administrative court in Washington has ruled.

Armstrong Coal filed a lawsuit in Muhlenberg County in August against Reuben Shemwell, who was fired from the company's Parkway Mine in 2011.

Shemwell had already taken his own legal action against the company by filing a federal discrimination complaint, arguing that he was let go for complaining about safety hazards. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has said Armstrong Coal's suit violated the section of a federal law designed to protect miners who file discrimination complaints.

The company accused Shemwell of wrongfully using civil proceedings, and said Shemwell was terminated for using his phone too much on the job.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, the administrative court, ruled Wednesday that Armstrong must move to have its suit dismissed within 40 days.

An attorney for Armstrong Coal did not return a message seeking comment on Friday. The mining company has several surface and underground mines in western Kentucky.

Tony Oppegard, Shemwell's attorney, said Friday that Armstrong's suit "was intended to intimidate Reuben (Shemwell) and other miners from filing discrimination cases."

Shemwell has not been able to find work in the mining industry since his departure from Armstrong Coal, Oppegard said.

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