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US Department of Labor sues National Council of La Raza Action Fund Inc., ordering reinstatement of whistle-blower fired for mold exposure complaint
OSHA finds Orlando, Fla., employer in violation of OSH Act's Section 11(c)
ORLANDO, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Labor has sued National Council of La Raza Action Fund Inc., successor to Democracia USA, a nonprofit community engagement and Hispanic voter registration organization in Orlando, for allegedly terminating an employee who raised health concerns about potential exposure to mold and other environmental factors in his workplace. The lawsuit follows an investigation by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration that found that the company unlawfully and intentionally terminated the worker for engaging in activity protected by Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The suit seeks to have the employee reinstated and paid back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages, along with expunging adverse information in the employee's personnel records. Finally, it seeks to bar the employer from commission of future violations of the OSH Act by a permanent injunction.
"Every American worker has the right to raise health concerns regarding potential exposures to environmental hazards, such as mold, without fearing retaliation," said Cindy Coe, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta. "We will continue to ensure that these basic worker rights are protected and will prosecute every employer found to have violated them."
In mid-September 2009, the employee began reporting concerns to management about potential exposure to mold and other environmental factors in the workplace, which were making him sick. In November 2009, an air quality test was performed that showed the presence of mold in the workplace. The office was closed for several months. After it reopened, the employee filed a health complaint with the OSHA Tampa Area Office. OSHA conducted an inspection and issued a citation against the employer for violation of OSHA's housekeeping standard. Upon receipt of the OSHA citation, the employee was informed that his employment was terminated. The employee then filed a whistle-blower complaint with OSHA.
The department is represented in court by its Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division.
OSHA enforces the whistle-blower provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various commercial motor vehicle; airline; nuclear; pipeline; environmental; railroad; public transportation; maritime; consumer product; health care reform; securities; food 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 Whistle-blower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistle-blower 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 Tampa Area Office at 813-626-1177.
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 involved in whistle-blower complaints.
Solis v. National Council of La Raza Action Fund Inc. Civil Action File Number: 6:12-cv-01889-JA-TBS
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