US Department of Labor's OSHA sues Whole Foods Market
for violating OSH Act's whistleblower protection provisions
Employee of Miami Beach, Fla., store allegedly fired for complaining about raw sewage spill
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has sued Whole Foods Market Group Inc. to reinstate a former employee with full back wages and benefits after the company allegedly fired the worker for voicing and reporting workplace health concerns regarding a raw sewage spillage at its store in Miami Beach.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, resulted from an investigation by OSHA that found the company violated the whistleblower protection provisions of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by unlawfully and intentionally terminating the individual's employment at the store, which is located at 1020 Alton Road.
"OSHA takes allegations of workplace discrimination very seriously," said Teresa Harrison, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Atlanta, Ga. "These types of allegations are thoroughly investigated, and employers violating the whistleblower protection provisions of the OSH Act are held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
OSHA is asking the federal court to remedy the situation by issuing an order that includes a permanent injunction against Whole Foods to prevent future violations of this law; reinstating the former employee with full benefits; paying back wages, punitive damages and compensatory damages to the employee; expunging the employee's personnel file with respect to the matters at issue in this case; and granting any other appropriate relief.
On Nov. 2, 2009, the employee voiced concerns to a supervisor alerting him that a sewer line, which had ruptured on Nov. 1, was still spilling into the workplace including, but not limited to, the specialty cheese department and the restrooms. The employee then called the company's anonymous tip line, since no corrective actions had been conducted by store management. On Nov. 5, the worker contacted another manager expressing concern that the problem had not been corrected. Whole Foods then fired the worker on Nov. 5 for allegedly making false and malicious statements to the effect that management had not taken any steps to redress the sewage contamination at the workplace.
Whole Foods Market is a retail food store chain with its main office in Austin, Texas. OSHA is represented in court by the Labor Department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta.
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, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, workplace safety and health, 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 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 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.