Region 4 News Release: 12-2136-ATL (25)
Feb. 6, 2013
Contact: Michael D'Aquino
US Department of Labor sues Duane Thomas Marine Construction
in Florida for firing employee who reported workplace violence
Employer violated OSH Act's Section 11(c)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division, against Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC and owner Duane Thomas for terminating an employee who reported workplace violence, in violation of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The suit resulted from an investigation by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration that was initiated upon receiving a complaint from the employee, who worked at the company's custom marine dock installation services site on Marco Island.
The suit seeks back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as front pay in lieu of reinstatement. Additionally, it seeks to have the employee's personnel records expunged with respect to the matters at issue in this case and to bar the employer against future violations of the OSH Act.
The employee alleged that, on numerous occasions between Dec. 9, 2009, and Feb. 25, 2011, Mr. Thomas committed workplace violence and created hostile working conditions. He allegedly behaved abusively, made inappropriate sexual comments and advances, yelled, screamed and made physically threatening gestures, in addition to withholding the employee's paycheck. The employee, who worked directly for Thomas, reported to him that he was creating hostile conditions. On Feb. 25, 2011, the employee filed a timely whistleblower complaint with OSHA alleging discrimination by Thomas for having reported the conditions to him. On March 18, 2011, Thomas received notification of the complaint filing. On March 23, 2011, Thomas had computer passwords changed in order to deny the employee remote access to files and then terminated the employee. OSHA's subsequent investigation found merit to the employee's complaint.
"Employees have the right to raise workplace violence concerns without fear of retaliation," said Teresa Harrison, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Atlanta. "OSHA will continue to enforce the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act to protect employees who report violations."
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various commercial motor vehicles, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, health care reform, securities, food safety, motor vehicle safety and consumer financial reform regulations. 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 Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights 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 Fort Lauderdale Area Office at 954-424-0242.
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 the names of employees who file whistleblower complaints.
Solis v. Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC and Duane Thomas, individually
Civil Action File Number 2:13-cv-76-FTM-99-DNF
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.