US Department of Labor sues US Postal Service
for violating whistleblower protections
Seattle-based employee allegedly suffered retaliation after informing co-worker of rights
SEATTLE – The U.S. Department of Labor has sued the U.S. Postal Service alleging discrimination and retaliation against a safety specialist who provided information to an employee wishing to file a safety complaint with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, resulted from an investigation by OSHA that found the Postal Service had violated the whistleblower protection provisions of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
"An employee's right to report unsafe and unhealthy workplace conditions must be protected to ensure that workers are not injured or sickened on the job," said Dean Ikeda, OSHA's regional administrator in Seattle. "Hostility and retaliation against whistleblowers are simply unacceptable."
OSHA's investigation determined that the Postal Service followed a pattern of adverse actions against the safety specialist, who was assigned to the Seattle Process and Distribution Center at 10700 27th Ave. S., after learning that he had assisted another employee in exercising her rights under the OSH Act and provided her with OSHA's contact information. That employee later filed a formal complaint with OSHA alleging unhealthful conditions at the facility. The specialist subsequently suffered a series of reprimands, was restricted from contact with staff at the facility and was transferred to an office without the necessary equipment to perform his job. The investigation also substantiated claims that the Postal Service reassigned many of the specialist's duties to an individual with a lower pay grade and did not select him for a promotion because of his interactions with OSHA despite acknowledging him as qualified for the position.
The Labor Department is asking the court to remedy the situation by ordering a permanent injunction against the Postal Service to prevent future violations of the law. The suit also asks for appropriate relief to the safety specialist, including the payment of lost wages and benefits, plus compensatory damages for emotional distress. The department is represented in court by its Regional Office of the Solicitor in Seattle.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of Section 11(c) of the OSH Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care reform, financial reform, consumer product and food safety laws.
Under the various whistleblower provisions 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 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 Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Seattle Regional Office at 206-757-6700.
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.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille, audio tape or disc from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.