PALMETTO, FL–The Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida, is being sued by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for firing an employee who blew the whistle on alleged safety hazards at the school.
According to OSHA, the employee submitted a letter to his supervisor on June 20, 2009, warning of improperly placed extension cords and the lack of sprinkler systems in the Manatee School’s two theaters. School authorities never responded to the letter or the concerns it expressed.
The employee then filed a complaint with OSHA on July 14, and on July 30 regulators from OSHA’s Atlanta office communicated with the school about the safety issues. However, the employee disputed the school’s response to OSHA’s inquiry, but was terminated by school authorities in response. OSHA officials who conducted an investigation on August 4, 2009 found the terminated employee’s concerns were valid and cited the school for the safety violations.
“Employees who identify safety and health concerns in the workplace are protected by the law, and when these rights are violated, OSHA will take action,” said Cindy Coe, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta. “We will not tolerate disregard for employees’ safety and health or the violation of whistleblower protections.”
OSHA filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, seeking the reinstatement of the former employee with full benefits; payment of back wages, punitive damages, and compensatory damages; removal of references to the matters of the case from the employee’s personnel file; and any other relief deemed appropriate. The lawsuit also requests a permanent injunction against the school to prevent future violations of the Occupation Safety and Health Act
A number of whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who, like the Manatee School employee, voice concerns over potential safety and health threats. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.