MANATEE, Fla. — A whistleblower who alleged the Manatee School of the Arts illegally fired him in retaliation for reporting serious safety concerns has been awarded $175,000 in back wages and punitive damages by a federal Florida court.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sued the school last year for violating U.S. whistleblower protections by firing stage craft assistant David Shack after he warned of improperly placed extension cords above the sprinkler system in the Manatee School’s two theaters. Mr. Shack said the school never responded to his concerns.
Mr. Shack then took his concerns about potential hazards to the Manatee County School Board and OSHA, filing a formal complaint with both in July 2009. He was terminated on July 30, 2009.
In response to Mr. Shack’s complaints, OSHA inspected the school in August 2009 and cited it for the same electrical safety violations that Mr. Shack had warned of. School officials settled those violations with OSHA by agreeing to pay a $2,000 fine.
OSHA’s lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Shack went to trial in U.S. District Court in Tampa last month. The jury awarded Mr. Shack $55,000 in back wages and an additional $120,000 in punitive damages, all but $20,000 to be paid by the school’s principal C.W. “Bill’ Jones. The school itself was ordered to pay the balance.
A lawyer for the school attempted to portray the court’s verdict as a case of big government overstepping its bounds, saying he was “outraged” by the decision. The lawyer told the Bradenton Herald that the he has filed a motion to have the verdict tossed.
Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act contains provisions that protect whistleblowers from retaliation when reporting wrongdoing in the workplace. The jury in Mr. Shack’s case found that Manatee School and its principal Mr. Jones violated the OSH Act while acting with “reckless indifference” to it.