The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in federal court against a Niagara Falls-based contractor that allegedly fired an employee who reported health and safety concerns.
The suit, which was filed Feb. 19 with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, alleges that Regional Environmental Demolition Inc. and its officials – Charles Van Epps and Enrico Liberale – fired a laborer who had expressed concerns about safety after OSHA contacted the employer about an anonymous complaint.
The demolition and asbestos abatement laborer had been working on an asbestos abatement project in Buffalo and noticed “soft spots” – deteriorated sections of floor. During the time he worked on the project (from April to June 2014), he reported on multiple occasions his concerns about the safety hazard to officials at the company.
The worker then was fired in June 2014 after OSHA contacted the company in response to an anonymous complaint it had received. The worker subsequently filed a whistleblower complaint to OSHA, which found merit in the claim.
"The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives us the authority to sue employers who retaliate against employees in safety and health matters. We will do so when the case warrants, as it does here," said Jeffrey Rogoff, the regional solicitor of labor in New York.
In its lawsuit, the Department of Labor is looking for payment of lost wages and compensatory damages, interest, front pay, emotional and financial distress damages and punitive damages to the worker; and for the matter to be erased from his personnel record.
"Regional Environmental Demolition had no reason and no right to fire this worker for repeatedly reporting a safety hazard that could have seriously harmed him and his fellow workers. Firing or retaliating against workers who raise safety concerns is intimidation, plain and simple. If employees fear losing their jobs, hazards can go unreported and injuries can result," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York.
The lawsuit also calls for the court to make Regional Environmental Demolition post a notice to employees announcing that they will not discriminate against workers who raise health and safety concerns.