BOSTON – The U.S. Department of Labor has sued Donald Pottern, doing business as Crown Furniture, of West Springfield, for allegedly firing a worker who filed a safety complaint with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"Employees have a right to file a complaint with OSHA without fear of discharge or other forms of retaliation from their employer," said Robert Hooper, OSHA's acting regional administrator for New England. "Such retaliation can coerce workers into silence, preventing them from reporting or raising concerns about conditions that could injure, sicken or kill them."
"The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the department the authority to file suit against employers that take action against employees in this manner. The department will not hesitate to act when the case warrants," said Christine Eskilson, deputy regional solicitor of labor for New England.
According to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Springfield, the employee contacted OSHA on May 9, 2011, alleging safety and health hazards in the basement of Crown Furniture, including the presence of asbestos, mold and rodents. On May 11, Pottern discharged the employee after he questioned him as to why he filed the complaint. The now former employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, which investigated and found merit to the complaint.
The department's lawsuit seeks a judgment affirming that Pottern discharged the employee in retaliation for filing an OSHA complaint and permanently prohibits him from illegally retaliating against employees in the future. The lawsuit seeks payment of more than $20,000 in lost wages to the employee, plus interest, as well as payment of compensatory and/or punitive damages and posting of a nondiscrimination notice at the workplace.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower* provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov/.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor
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