The U.S. Department of Labor said it is suing two companies operating in Houston, Texas, for illegally firing employees who reported safety concerns to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in violation of federal whistleblower protections.
The Labor Department filed two separate complaints against the companies in federal court.
In one complaint, federal prosecutors allege Eustis Cable Enterprises and its vice president, Michael Palmer, violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s whistleblower provisions when it fired an employee who complained to OSHA that the company ignored his concerns about his lack of certification to operate a forklift. The employee also complained that propane tanks on the worksite were not properly secured.
According to the lawsuit, less than one hour after learning of the OSHA complaint, the Brookfield, Vermont-based company fired the employee.
In the other lawsuit, the Labor Department accuses Continuum Integrated Health Services Inc. and its CEO, Dr. Barbara Candley, of terminating an employee in retribution for telling OSHA about a locked exit door that blocked emergency access. Continuum provides behavioral health care services to patients in the Houston area.
The lawsuit alleges that after OSHA informed Dr. Candley of the complaint, she called the employee who filed the complaint into her office and asked if she could expect any more complaints or investigations. Three days later, Dr. Candley fired the employee when she saw her attempting to document the meeting and the employee admitted to contacting OSHA.
“Employees must be able to exercise their rights freely and raise concerns with their employers without fear of retribution,” said regional OSHA Administrator Eric Harbin. “We will hold employers accountable when they attempt to silence a worker who is concerned about their safety and the well-being of others. These lawsuits send a clear message that we will use all available enforcement tools, including litigation, to stop employers from engaging in retaliatory conduct.”
In both cases, the Labor Department asks the judge to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from taking any further retaliation action against employees who raise safety or health concerns. The lawsuits also seek back pay, reinstatement, and other damages suffered by the employees due to the illegal terminations.