OSHA Whistleblower Protection

Ex-employee Gets $225,000 in OSHA Whistleblower Protection Case

All employers, in Texas and elsewhere are required to keep all workplaces as safe and healthy as possible for the people who work there. When an employee finds a hazard on the job, they should bring it to the attention of the employer or at least an immediate supervisor as soon as possible. If they don’t respond, however, and alleviate the hazard, all workers should be aware that they have the right to act as a whistleblower and report the problem to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for a resolution, and that they will be protected by the law when they do so.

Last week, federal judge in Idaho ordered Spokane, Washington-based Clearwater Paper Corp. to pay a former employee, Anthony Tenny, a total of $235,000 in damages after the court ruled that company had fired him in 2010, in retaliation for having filed a complaint with OSHA regarding hazardous working conditions at the company’s sawmill in Lewiston, Idaho.

The timing was suspicious, to say the least, according to the court. Tenny was fired by the company just about a month after OSHA investigators conducted an inspection of the sawmill – one that had been triggered by the complaint – and found that there were dangerously high levels of combustible wood dust throughout the workplace. According to the report, one spark could have sent the entire plant up in flames.

In 2013, Tenny decided to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA and soon after that, the Department of Labor followed by filing a lawsuit on his behalf, alleging that the now ex-employee was fired because he filed the complaint with OSHA. For their part, Clearwater Paper claimed that they had fired Tenny for insubordination, an explanation that District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found to be “preposterous,” as she stated in her ruling. She also found that “all of the reasons advanced by Clearwater for firing Tenny are a fabrication intended to hide the real reason for (his) termination …  (which) was because he filed an OSHA complaint.”

In calculating the monetary damages, the court determined that Tenny was entitled to $108,000 in economic damages, including a total of $76,000 in back pay that he would have received up until Clearwater sold the sawmill to Idaho Forest Group, primarily because that company terminated all of the mill’s hourly union employees. The court also awarded him $50,000 for emotional distress and $77,000 in punitive damages. An injunction was also filed against Clearwater Paper to prevent them from retaliating against any other employees who file complaints with OSHA.

As a worker, you have the ultimate right to file a complaint with OSHA when there is a hazardous or unsafe situation in your workplace and your employer doesn’t respond to your concerns in a way that fixes the problem. OSHA whistleblower protections are set in the law and employers are also required to follow workplace safety standards. If you have made a complaint about an unsafe situation where you work and you believe you were fired for that, please contact a San Antonio personal injury lawyer as soon as possible, so that we can investigate and help you protect your rights under the law. Consultations are always free.

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