ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service on behalf of a maintenance employee at the St. Louis Network Distribution Center in Hazelwood, Mo., who reported unsafe working conditions and suffered reprisals, including false charges of making a terrorist threat.
The lawsuit seeks exemplary damages to deter such conduct by the Postal Service in the future, compensatory damages for emotional distress, restoration of lost pay and benefits and compensation for attorney and other fees. The 35-year employee was suspended and given a termination notice, but has since been reinstated.
“The Postal Service not only disciplined this long-term employee for reporting unsafe working conditions, but also pursued a baseless criminal complaint against him resulting in his detention by law enforcement and the disparagement of his reputation,” said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “No American worker should be subject to such treatment. The department will do everything in its power to prevent this type of unlawful retaliation against workers who report unsafe working conditions.”
The department’s lawsuit alleges that the employee, who was responsible for heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, including the boilers at the distribution center, alerted supervisors on Dec. 2, 2009, that he suspected a carbon monoxide leak and fuel oil spill as well as an accumulation of fuel oil soaked rags in the boiler room, creating a safety hazard.
On Dec. 4, 2009, the maintenance worker attempted to contact a fire marshal about the alleged carbon monoxide leak and after failing to reach anyone called 911. When emergency responders arrived, Postal Service supervisors allegedly characterized the complainant as “disgruntled” and alleged that he was “attempting to sabotage the facility.” The next day, the maintenance worker, who had no history of disciplinary action, was suspended.
In September 2010, he was notified that he was being dismissed from employment for reasons that included reporting safety concerns. His dismissal from service was effective Nov. 6, 2010. On May 5, 2011, the Postal Service rescinded its notice of removal and provided back pay and restored benefits to the employee for the period of Nov. 6, 2010, through May 5, 2011. However, the Postal Service did not compensate the complainant for the first 15 days of the suspension in December 2009 or for consequential damages and other appropriate relief to which he is entitled. The lawsuit seeks to restore this compensation and damages.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleges the Postal Service violated the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Kansas City is litigating the case.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 21 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.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise concerns or provide information to their employer or the government under any of these laws. Employees who believe they are a victim of retaliation for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with OSHA’s Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs.
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.
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).