Please note: As of January 20, 2017, information in some news releases may be out of date or not reflect current policies.
US Department of Labor sues two Houston companies that illegally fired employees who told OSHA of workplace safety concerns
HOUSTON – The U.S. Department of Labor filed two separate federal lawsuits in Houston today alleging that two employers operating in the city illegally fired employees for making safety complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In the first filing, the department alleges Eustis Cable Enterprises and its vice president, Michael Palmer, violated the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by firing an employee who complained to OSHA that Eustis ignored his concerns about his lack of certification to operate a forklift and that propane tanks on site were not secured properly. The lawsuit alleges that – less than an hour after learning of the OSHA complaint – Eustis fired the employee. Headquartered in Brookfield, Vermont, Eustis Cable constructs communication systems throughout the U.S. and installs fiber optic cable in the Houston area.
The department also filed suit against Continuum Integrated Health Services Inc. and its CEO, Dr. Barbara Candley, alleging that the employer fired an employee who told OSHA about a locked exit door that blocked emergency access. After OSHA informed Candley of the complaint, she called the employee who complained into her office and asked if she could expect any more complaints or investigations. Three days later, Candley fired the employee when she saw her attempting to document the events that occurred at the meeting and the employee admitted to contacting OSHA. Continuum provides behavioral health care services to children, adults and families in the Houston area.
“Employees must be able to exercise their rights freely and raise concerns with their employers without fear of retribution.” said Eric Harbin, OSHA’s Acting Regional Administrator for Region 6. “We will hold employers accountable when they attempt to silence a worker who is concerned about their safety and the well-being of others. These lawsuits send a clear message that we will use all available enforcement tools, including litigation, to stop employers from engaging in retaliatory conduct.”
In both cases, the department is asking the judge to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from taking any further retaliation action against employees who raise safety or health concerns. The lawsuits also seek back pay, reinstatement and other damages suffered by the employees due to the illegal terminations.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various worker safety, railroad, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation,, maritime and securities laws.
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. More information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the OSH 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.
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Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.