A Connecticut awning manufacturer that wrongfully fired two employee whistleblowers for reporting safety and health violations on the job must pay the discharged workers a total of $160,000, a federal court has ruled.
Two employees of Eastern Awning, which manufactures retractable fabric patio awnings in Watertown, Connecticut, filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after they became ill while working in the plant’s powder coat room in June 2009.
OSHA investigated the whistleblower complaints and cited the company in December 2009 for willfully exposing the workers to inhalation hazards and for lack of adequate ventilation.
While OSHA’s inspection was underway, the company and its owner fired the two employees who submitted the whistleblower complaints to OSHA.
OSHA’s attempts to resolve the matter with Eastern Awning out of court were unsuccessful, prompting the U.S. Department of Labor to sue the company on behalf of the whistleblowers in November 2015.
In January, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled that the company violated the employees’ whistleblower protections when it fired them in retaliation for reporting their concerns to OSHA.
In addition to ordering back pay, interest and damages, the consent judgment and order restrains Eastern Awning and its owner from discriminating against whistleblowers and other employees who exercise their rights. The judgment also requires the company to provide neutral letters of reference for the two discharged employees if needed and to post the judgment and notice of employees’ rights prominently at the workplace.
“Employers have a responsibility to comply with all applicable requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, which includes ensuring employees of their right to voice safety and health concerns, and contact OSHA without retaliation,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton.