January 30, 2020
U.S. Department of Labor Orders Michigan School District to Reinstate, Pay $102,905 to Second Employee Terminated for Warning of Unsafe Conditions
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, MI – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that the Dearborn Heights School District violated whistleblower statutes by unjustly disciplining, publicly discrediting and terminating an employee who reported unsafe working conditions to federal and state agencies. OSHA ordered the Michigan school district to reinstate the employee and pay a total of $102,905.78 in back wages, damages and other compensation.
Federal investigators determined that the Michigan school district violated the Clean Air Act. The terminated employee served as a key witness for federal investigators in a 2012 whistleblower complaint from an employee who alleged employee and student exposure to asbestos at the public school. In fall 2016, the employee also reported potential exposure of pesticide at the school to the Michigan Environmental Protection Agency.
OSHA's investigation found the Dearborn Heights School District publicly disputed these employees' complaints, as well as media reports of potential exposure to hazards. The district also maintained an information link on its website alleging that both employees had presented misinformation and caused a public health scare. In addition, the district stated on the public website that it was within its rights to terminate whistleblowers, a clear violation of federal law.
The employee assisted with the 2012 investigation after the worker objected when the director of operations and construction management told the worker to dry sand floor tiles that contained asbestos at Annapolis High School. The director failed to train the workers in asbestos hazards and provide protective equipment.
Within days of receipt of the Department of Labor's June 2016 findings in the employee's whistleblower case, the school district allegedly embarked on heightened surveillance of the second employee, a lengthy progressive discipline campaign against the individual, and eventually terminated their employment for actions including reporting unsafe conditions to state and federal agencies.
"All workers are entitled to a safe and healthful workplace without the fear of retaliation for voicing concerns," said OSHA Acting Chicago Regional Administrator William Donovan. "No worker should be harassed, publicly defamed or punished for reporting unsafe working conditions, advocating for other employees and seeking assurances that they and students are not being exposed to carcinogenic materials."
In the previous action, Dearborn Heights School District contested OSHA's June 2016 findings in favor of the first whistleblower. An Administrative Law Judge ordered the district, through a settlement, to pay the former janitor $210,261 in back wages and damages on Feb. 14, 2018.
Both parties have 30 days from the receipt of OSHA's findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws and for engaging in other related protected activities.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to help 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 https://www.osha.gov.
The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.
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Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
Release Number: 19-950-CHI
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