Federal safety regulators filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against farm equipment manufacturer John Deere Tuesday, alleging the company fired one of its workers in retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions at its facilities in Moline, Ill.
The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Labor in an Illinois federal court, seeks reinstatement, back pay, other damages, attorney’s fees, and a clean personnel record for a pipe fitter who was fired in June 2012 after filing three safety complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2010 and 2012.
OSHA responded to the worker’s complaints by inspecting the company’s Moline cylinder plant for workplace hazards and other safety violations. Those inspections resulted in safety citations each time.
In April 2010, the worker’s complaint led to John Deere receiving a serious safety violation for exposing workers to fall hazards.
In January 2012, the worker filed a complaint with OSHA for various machinery violations, which exposed workers operating dangerous machinery to amputation and crushing injuries. OSHA investigated and cited the company for five serious safety violations.
In May 2012, the pipefitter filed a complaint alleging that the facility lacked necessary first-aid facilities. OSHA conducted an inspection on May 25, 2012, which resulted in one serious citation for the violation.
According to the complaint, the worker had been employed with John Deere since 2006 and was fired two weeks after OSHA’s third inspection.
“It is clear from OSHA’s investigation that John Deere dismissed this employee for reporting conditions that exposed everyone at the facility to serious injuries,” William Donovan, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Chicago, said in a statement. “Commitment to workplace safety should be commended – not disciplined.”
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of laws regulating numerous industries.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise concerns or provide information to their employer or the government under any of these laws. Employees who believe they are a victim of retaliation for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with OSHA’s Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs.