U.S. DOL Sues Massachusetts Company That Fired Worker for Safety Complaint

DOL Sues Crown Furniture for Firing Employee who Filed OSHA Complaint

The US Department of Labor has sued Crown Furniture, a West Springfield, Massachusetts company, and its owner, Donald Pottern, after Pottern allegedly fired a worker who had filed a complaint with OSHA over workplace safety violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Act is the basis for the agency’s authority to file suit on behalf of an employee against an employer that has retaliated for complaining to the agency about workplace safety violations.

The complaint was filed with the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Springfield, and it states that the employee contacted OSHA on May 9, 2011, alleging that Crown Furniture was committing health and safety violations by permitting the accumulation of asbestos, mold, and rodents in the basement of its Springfield facility. Two days later, Pottern questioned the employee about the reasons for his filing the complaint, after which he fired him. The fired employee submitted a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. After an investigation, OSHA found the employee’s complaint to be meritorious.

The DOL lawsuit asks the District Court to enter a judgment confirming that Pottern’s firing the employee was an act of retaliation against him for filing an OSHA complaint. The suit also seeks an injunction preventing Pottern from pursuing any such retaliation in the future against an employee for complaining of safety violations. The DOL also asks the court to enter judgment in favor of the employee for more than $20,000 in lost wages, with interest, and for compensatory and punitive damages. Additional affirmative relief would include a requirement that the employer post a nondiscrimination notice at the workplace.

OSHA is charged by law with enforcement of the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and additional laws that protect employees from retaliation when they file complaints related to workplace safety in a diverse group of industries. Employers come under the hammer of the whistleblower protection laws if they retaliate against employees who complain of workplace health and safety violations governed by OSH regulations or if they provide information about these violations to either the employer or to a federal agency. The proper course of action for an employee who believes that he or she is the target of illegal retaliation is filing a complaint with the Secretary of Labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.

US Department of Labor Re-establishes Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee in mid-2014

The WPAC advises and recommends measures to improve OSHA’s whistleblower protections, in particular to ensure that they are fair, efficient, effective, and transparent. The committee provides a channel of communication and advice between OSHA and such diverse stakeholders as whistleblowers and worker advocates, employers and employer representatives, attorneys, experts in investigation and administrative law, academic researchers, and others with expertise and experience in relevant areas.

Re-establishing WPAC will provide a forum for the committee to advise the DOL on its policies and practices in the areas of investigation and enforcement, OSHA investigators’ training, the regulatory scheme within which OSHA investigations are conducted, and OSHA’s cooperation and collaboration with other federal agencies whose purviews overlap with OSHA’s workplace safety and worker protection mandates and methods for protecting whistleblowers. The committee’s new charter will remain in effect for two years.

If you have become ill or been injured at work, for more information about the workers’ compensation process, contact a Boston workers’ compensation attorney from Pulgini & Norton to schedule a free consultation to find out more about what our lawyers can accomplish for you. Contact us with a brief description of your situation or reach us by phone at our Downtown Boston, Hyde Park, or Braintree, Massachusetts office locations.

More Posts:

Pain Management and Workers’ Compensation, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, April 23, 2014

The Top Five Most Expensive Workers’ Compensation Claims, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, March 26, 2014

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