Facebook Posts About Safety Concerns Prompt Whistle-Blower Suit

By Bruce Rolfsen

Facebook posts raising on-the-job health concerns contributed to the firing of a worker that OSHA is now defending in federal court.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Jan. 19 filed a whistle-blower defense lawsuit claiming that Shepherd’s Chapel Church of Gravette, Ark., which has a nationally distributed television ministry, and Pastor Dennis Murray wrongly dismissed two workers who are married to each other ( Perez v. Soldiers of the Cross , W.D. Ark., No. 17-5014, 1/19/17 ).

The case appears to be the first time OSHA has said in a whistle-blower lawsuit that Facebook entries complaining about safety or health conditions are protected by federal law.

The Department of Labor’s National Labor Relations Board has previously defended workers who lost their jobs after complaining on Facebook about wages and hour issues.

Kimberly Carnahan lost her job on Jan. 13, 2016, after Murray learned that her husband, Darrin Carnahan, posted three complaints on Facebook about the chapel’s hazardous work environment, according to OSHA’s lawsuit.

Kimberly Carnahan told Murray, she was unware of her husband’s Facebook posts until the pastor spoke to her, the lawsuit says.

Darrin Carnahan, who OSHA is also defending, was dismissed by the chapel in October 2015 after he told a supervisor he was becoming sick because of poor ventilation inside a print shop, the lawsuit says.

The nonprofit business allegedly violated Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibiting employers from punishing workers for bringing up job-related safety or health problems, according the to the lawsuit.

OSHA is seeking for the Carnahans their lost wages and benefits plus interest, compensation for emotional suffering, reinstatement or a financial settlement and clearing personnel records of references to the terminations.

OSHA records don’t show any inspections of Shepherd’s Chapel.

The chapel did not respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment on the allegations Jan. 23.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.

OSHA rarely files lawsuits in Section 11(c) cases. The actions are usually filed after no settlement can be agreed to and Department of Labor attorneys believe they have a winnable case.

Brian Hurt of the Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor in Dallas, Texas, represents OSHA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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