Popcorn Worker’s Safety Focus of OSHA Whistle-Blower Lawsuit

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By Bruce Rolfsen

A popcorn factory worker was wrongfully fired for insisting she should be given chemical safety information to take home, according to an OSHA whistle-blower defense lawsuit filed April 11.

The worker, Karla Lisowe, was concerned that ingredients in a dill pickle flavoring used to coat popcorn were giving her nosebleeds and headaches, the lawsuit says ( Hugler v. Palo Foods Inc. , E.D. Wis., No. 17-0519, 4/11/17 ).

“I said, ‘I don’t want anything to happen to me,’” Lisowe told Bloomberg BNA April 11.

Lisowe was employed by Palo Foods Inc. of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., the maker of Palo Popcorn.

Palo allowed Lisowe to read a copy of the data sheet, but said she couldn’t have her own copy, the lawsuit says.

After repeatedly asking for a copy of the dill flavoring’s material safety data sheet to take home and telling a supervisor that her husband had contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Lisowe was dismissed on May 2, 2013, the lawsuit says.

Dismissing a worker for raising safety or health concerns with supervisors or communicating with OSHA is prohibited by the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s Section 11(c).

To compensate for Lisowe’s wrongful firing, the government wants a judge to mandate that Palo remove references of the termination from personnel records, pay Lisowe lost wages and compensation for other financial losses and pain and suffering, and offer reinstatement or front pay.

Palo Foods declined to discuss the case with Bloomberg BNA.

The case marks at least the fourth time in 2017 that the Department of Labor has filed suit defending workers under Section 11(c)’s provisions. Typically, the cases are filed only after settlement talks fail.

Christine Heri and Margaret Sewell with the Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor in Chicago represent 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

For More Information

The OSHA complaint is available a http://src.bna.com/nQc.

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