March 4, 2015
US Labor Department sues Idaho Falls school district
after employee is fired for raising concerns about asbestos removal
Filing seeks reinstatement, back pay, damages for wrongfully terminated employee
SEATTLE – When an employee raises concerns about the dangers of asbestos in a school, you would expect them to be commended and not terminated. After questioning whether the timeline of a construction project at a school in Idaho Falls School District 91 allowed for safe removal of asbestos, a district employee was out of a job. Now, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has stepped in to protect that worker's rights.
The department has filed suit against the Idaho Falls School District, alleging that the 2011 dismissal violated the whistleblower provisions of federal asbestos worker protection law. Filed in the U.S. District Court in Idaho, the complaint seeks the employee's reinstatement and back pay with interest and other damages of more than $300,000. The suit also seeks an order permanently preventing Idaho Falls School District 91 from violating the anti-retaliation provisions of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act.
"Protecting children, teachers and others who care for them at school should be appreciated, not condemned for any reason. The employee who raised safety concerns in this case did a service to the school and the community," said Galen Blanton, deputy regional administrator in Seattle. "Employees have the legal right to raise concerns about safety, health and environmental hazards in the workplace without the fear of reprisal."
The former employee believed the project's timeline would almost certainly have required asbestos removal. Their concern was that the schedule would not allow enough time to follow regulations for asbestos removal and that accidental release of dangerous asbestos fibers might occur. After voicing the concern, the suit alleges, the employee's supervisor reacted in a hostile manner toward the employee before he was fired.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the AHERA 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, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
Release Number: 14-2324-SAN (SF-17)
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