Workers in Alabama recently got some new muscle in their legal battle against a former employer who allegedly retaliated against them for whistleblowing: the US Department of Labor.
The US Department of Labor has brought suit against Lear Corporation and some of its managers, claiming that Renosol Seating, a subsidiary of Lear, suspended and fired employees wrongfully. This marks yet another recent government effort to crack down on whistleblower retaliation.
Employees Reported Workplace Dangers
It all started in May 2014 when three workers on the Renosol production line began to fear for their health from exposure to a dangerous chemical called toluene diisocyanate, a possible carcinogen. They wrote a letter to the company’s HR department complaining about a leak of the toxic chemical and asking for medical screenings, among other safety requests.
Going Through Proper Channels
Most laws require that whistleblowing employees try to resolve their concerns with their employer first before going to the government or the press – which is exactly what the Renosol employees did.
After going to HR, they also reported the hazardous exposure to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Mobile, Alabama, which launched an investigation. In June 2014, two of the affected employees made their case to NBCnews.
Demotions Following Employee Reports
Just a few months later, Renosol essentially demoted the three whistleblowers by transferring them to jobs where they were no longer able to earn overtime pay. The employees also claimed that they were being asked to perform tasks which could be ergonomically injurious.
After the job switch, the three employees again went to OSHA and the media, claiming that Renosol was engaging in whistleblower retaliation.
Whistleblowing Is Protected By Federal Law
In March 2015, one of the whistleblowers was fired. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Labor stepped in. The lawsuit filed this month by the Department of Labor seeks wages and punitive damages from Lear Corporation on behalf of the whistleblowers.
In commenting on the case, OSHA’s regional administrator, Kurt Petermeyer said, “Employees have the right to raise occupational safety and health concerns without the fear of retaliation. OSHA will continue to seek litigation for companies that violate the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act to protect employees who report violations.”
If you’ve been the victim of whistleblower retaliation, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our lawyers to learn about your rights and protections as a whistleblower.