June 29, 2016
OSHA orders Dearborn Heights School District to pay $193K
to employee punished for warning of asbestos exposures at city school
District violated janitor's whistleblower rights, protections after raising safety concerns
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. - Federal investigators have determined a Michigan janitor was labeled a troublemaker and subjected to a continuing litany of adverse personnel actions by the Dearborn Heights School District after she complained about exposure to asbestos while cleaning school floor tiles.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the school district violated the whistleblower provisions of the Clean Air Act, and has ordered the district to pay the worker a total of $193,139 in back wages, damages and other compensation.
"No worker should be harassed or punished for reporting unsafe working conditions, advocating for other employees and seeking assurance that they are not being exposed to carcinogenic materials such as asbestos which can impact their long-term health," said Ken Nishiyama Atha, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago. "OSHA's investigation found the Dearborn Heights School District clearly knew the tiles contained asbestos and failed to protect workers from exposure."
OSHA has ordered the school district to pay the janitor $8,139 in lost wages, minus applicable employment taxes, $45,000 toward current and future medical bills, and $140,000 in compensatory damages for loss of reputation and distress, as well as reasonable attorney's fees.
In June 2012, the janitor objected when the director of operations and construction management told her to dry sand floor tiles that contained asbestos at Annapolis High School. The director failed to train the workers in asbestos hazards and failed to provide protective equipment.
The janitor's action began a three-and-half-year period ending in September 2015 during which she suffered various adverse personnel actions as she continued to raise concerns about asbestos levels in the schools, presented medical documentation of her asbestos exposure, and advocated in an effort to protect other employees. She also received reprimands after she filed complaints with the State of Michigan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and spoke to media organizations about school conditions. In response, she endured layoffs, extra work and lack of pay raises, many of which violated her union contract.
Investigators determined the district falsely represented that a 2013 sampling was negative for asbestos. In June 2013, Michigan OSHA cited the district for exposing workers to asbestos containing material.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Both parties have 30 days from the receipt of OSHA's findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. 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. More information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
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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: 16-444-CHI
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