Photo: Whistleblower Protection Act
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.