US Labor Department obtains judgment ordering Maine dentist to pay
$72,000 to two former employees who raised workplace health concerns
Employer allegedly violated anti-retaliation provisions of Occupational Safety and Health Act
AUGUSTA, Maine – The U.S. Department of Labor has secured a consent judgment in federal court ordering a Bath dentist to pay a total of $72,000¿$38,000 and $34,000, respectively¿to two former employees and take other actions to resolve alleged violations of the anti-retaliation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The department filed suit in September 2012 against Tammy L. Cook, doing business as Bath Family Dental, following a whistle-blower investigation by its Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
According to the complaint, two dental hygienists at Bath Family Dental began in late 2010 to register concerns with Cook about what they perceived as lapses in infection control procedures. Attempts to resolve the issues in-house were unsuccessful, and one of the hygienists filed a complaint with OSHA. OSHA opened an inspection on Oct. 4, 2011. Cook fired one of the employees on Oct. 18, and placed the other on probation, leading to her resignation.
"This judgment upholds the clear legal right under the Occupational Safety and Health Act for employees to raise workplace safety and health concerns to their employers without fear of termination or other forms of reprisal," said Michael Felsen, the department's regional solicitor for New England. "It also reinforces the department's commitment to taking all appropriate legal action, including a lawsuit, to protect that right."
"Employers must remember that workers have a voice in the workplace regarding their health and well-being," said Marthe Kent, OSHA's New England regional administrator. "Firing or forcing employees from their jobs for raising legitimate safety and health issues is unacceptable."
The judgment, entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, requires Cook to make the payments in monthly installments and provide proof of payment to OSHA, expunge all references to the matter from the former employees' personnel records and provide a written, neutral confirmation of employment if another prospective employer requests a job reference for either worker.
Cook will also post at her workplace an OSHA poster concerning rights and obligations under the OSH Act and provide all employees with the OSHA "Your Rights as a Whistle-blower" fact sheet. Finally, she agrees not to pursue a number of collateral actions she had initiated, which had the potential to significantly impact the livelihood and economic well-being of one of the complainants. In the settlement, Cook neither admits nor denies the allegations in the department's complaint.
The case was litigated for the department by trial attorney Nathan P. Goldstein of the Regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston.
OSHA enforces the whistle-blower provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Under these laws enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistle-blower Protection Program. Detailed employee rights information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Harris v. Tammy L. Cook D.M.D., doing business as Bath Family Dental.
Civil Action Number: 2:12-cv-00268
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U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille or CD from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.