USPS Sued for Disciplining Safety Whistle-Blower

By Roy Maurer July 21, 2014

The U.S. Department of Labor is suing the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for allegedly retaliating against an employee for reporting unsafe working conditions.

The suit alleges the USPS violated the whistle-blower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The worker, whose name has been withheld, had been suspended and given notice of termination before being reinstated at the St. Louis Network Distribution Center in Hazelwood, Mo.

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 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 (OSHA), in a news release. “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 lawsuit alleges that the employee, who was responsible for heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, including the boilers at the distribution center, alerted supervisors in December 2009 that he suspected a carbon monoxide leak and fuel oil spill, and was also concerned about an accumulation of fuel oil-soaked rags in the boiler room, creating a safety hazard.

Two days later, the 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, his 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 for 15 days.

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 On May 5, 2011, the Postal Service rescinded the termination and provided back pay and restored benefits to the employee for the period of Nov. 6, 2010, through May 5, 2011.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. The lawsuit seeks to restore this compensation and damages.

OSHA enforces the whistle-blower 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 to their employer or the government under any of these laws.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy



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