Discipline of Southwestern Bell workers prompts lawsuit by US Department of Labor for illegal retaliation against workers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. on behalf of four employees who received disciplinary action and unsatisfactory performance appraisals for reporting workplace injuries that occurred in Missouri and Kansas in 2011 and 2012.
"It is against the law for employers to discipline employees for reporting injuries," said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City, Mo. "Southwestern Bell must understand that, by discouraging workers from reporting injuries, it increases the likelihood of more injured workers in the future. The department will do everything in its power to prevent this type of retaliation."
The complaint alleges that in four separate incidents, employees of Southwestern Bell were disciplined and/or given unsatisfactory performance appraisals. The company alleged that each employee violated a corporate workplace safety standard; however, OSHA's investigation found that the company's actions were a result of workers reporting their injuries.
An employee based in Parkville, Mo., injured his knee on Jan. 11, 2011, when he stepped into a depression during snowy conditions. The company found the worker at fault for the incident. His 2011 performance appraisal rated him below expectations in safety because of the incident. Another employee based in Liberty, Mo., received a poor performance appraisal after the company said his work-related fracture occurring on Aug. 3, 2011, was because of a violation of the company's safety policies.
Two other employees were given performance notices for safety violations. An employee based in Lawrence, Kan., received a six-month performance notice beginning Oct. 29, 2012, after reporting a back injury. Another worker based out of Overland Park, Kan., received a written discipline notice after he reported an ankle injury that occurred on May 23, 2012, and resulted in him missing eight work days.
In the case of the four employees, an OSHA investigation found that the employees were illegally disciplined for reporting their injuries—not because of workplace violations, as the company claimed. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, alleges the company 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).
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Perez v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.
Civil Action No.: 1:14-cv-00398-SWH