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U.S. Department of Labor | Dec. 2, 2015 BOS 2015-221

Connecticut manufacturer unlawfully discharged employees for filing OSHA
safety and health complaints, US Labor Department charges

Date of action: Nov. 15, 2015

Type of action: Complaint and request for jury trial

Names of defendants: Eastern Awning Systems Inc. and Stephen P. Lukos

Allegations: Eastern Awning Systems Inc. manufactures retractable fabric patio awnings in a plant located at 843 Echo Lake Road in Watertown, Connecticut; Stephen P. Lukos is the company's owner, president and director.

Two Eastern Awning employees filed safety and health and complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration after they became ill while working in the plant's powder coat room in June, 2009. OSHA inspected in response to the complaints, and the company was cited in December 2009 for willfully exposing the workers to inhalation hazards and for lack of adequate ventilation. While OSHA's inspection was ongoing, the company and Lukos discharged the two employees.

The employees then filed anti-discrimination, or whistleblower complaints with OSHA regarding their terminations. The whistleblower investigation found that that the defendants unlawfully discharged the two employees because they filed the safety and health complaints with OSHA. Efforts to resolve the matter without resorting to adversarial litigation were unsuccessful.

Resolution Sought: The Department's lawsuit is asking the court to find that the defendants wrongfully discharged the employees and order them to: pay the discharged employees' lost wages plus interest; pay compensatory for emotional distress; pay punitive damages; be prohibited from future such violations; post a workplace notice informing employees of their rights; and pay the costs of the lawsuit.

"This is a case where an employer willfully exposed its employees to workplace hazards, then compounded its unacceptable behavior by retaliating against these workers for exercising their rights to a healthy work environment," said Kim Stille, OSHA's New England regional administrator.

"The law is clear and so is our message to employers: You cannot discriminate against employees for filing complaints with OSHA or voicing concerns about hazardous conditions in the workplace. When employers take retaliatory actions as the defendants did here, we will pursue strong and appropriate remedies, including through legal action if needed" said Michael Felsen, the regional solicitor of labor for New England.

The safety and health inspection was conducted by OSHA's Hartford Area Office and the whistleblower investigation by OSHA's Boston regional office. The case is being litigated by Attorney Nathan C. Henderson of the Labor Department's regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report amputations, eye loss, workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Docket Number: 15-cv-01692

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Media Contact:

Ted Fitzgerald, 617-565-2075
Release Number: 15-2248-BOS

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