Federal authorities ordered a New York demolition and construction company to pay a whistleblower it allegedly fired for reporting asbestos safety concerns more than $173,000.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said that it investigated Champagne Demolition LLC, an Albany-based company, and its owner Joseph Champagne in response to a worker’s complaint about improper asbestos removal practices at a New York school site.
Although OSHA didn’t provide details about the alleged asbestos violations, companies that fail to follow specific procedures for proper removal not only endanger their workers but potentially expose others as well.
On June 10, 2010, the Champagne Demolition employee informed company management of the improper practices. Instead of addressing the worker’s concerns, however, the company verbally threated and fired the worker.
OSHA opened an investigation of the company after receiving a whistleblower complaint from the fired employee and determining that the allegations had merit. The agency then filed a lawsuit against Champagne Demolition on behalf of the whistleblower, claiming it engaged in retaliatory acts that violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The company and Champagne were ordered to pay $103,000 in back wages, $20,000 in compensatory damages, and $50,000 in punitive damages. Total damages awarded to the whistleblower came to $173,794.
“We are pleased with the jury verdict and the judge’s ruling to hold this employer accountable for violating the employee’s rights,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Robert Kulick in a statement. “Every worker has the right to report potential safety and health hazards without fear of harassment, termination, or retaliation.”
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations across a multitude of industries.