FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA –The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division, against Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC and its owner Duane Thomas for firing an employee who reported workplace violence.
The lawsuit is the result of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation prompted by a complaint from the employee who worked at the company’s marine dock installation services site on Marco Island, Florida.
The employee alleged that, on numerous occasions between December 2009 and February 2011, Mr. Thomas behaved violently at the work site and created hostile working conditions. The employee accused Mr. Thomas of abusive behavior, making inappropriate sexual comments and advances, yelling, screaming, and making physically threatening gestures. Additionally, the complaint accused Mr. Thomas of withholding the employee’s paycheck.
The employee complained of the hostile working conditions directly to Mr. Thomas, then filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA in February 2011, alleging Mr. Thomas discriminated against him for reporting the conditions to him. OSHA notified Mr. Thomas of the complaint in March 2011. Mr. Thomas then changed computer passwords to deny the employee access to work files and then fired the employee. A subsequent OSHA investigation of Duane Thomas Marine Construction found the employee’s complaint to be valid.
“Employees have the right to raise workplace violence concerns without fear of retaliation,” said Teresa Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Atlanta. “OSHA will continue to enforce the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act to protect employees who report violations.”
The lawsuit seeks back wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as front pay in lieu of reinstatement. Additionally, it seeks to have the employee’s personnel records cleared of any matters relating to the case.
OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” This hostile behavior ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.
Workplace violence / homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. Of the of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the U.S. in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides. Nearly 2 million reports of workplace violence flood law enforcement agencies, state regulators, and OSHA every year.