Trump OSHA Files Safety Whistle-Blower Defense Lawsuits

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By Bruce Rolfsen

The first two safety whistle-blower lawsuits filed by OSHA under the Trump administration are in the books.

And in both cases, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is suing two employers for allegedly firing workers after filing safety complaints with the agency.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s Section 11(c) makes it illegal to dismiss workers for raising safety concerns with supervisors or OSHA.

The agency rarely files Section 11(c) lawsuits. Of the 2,096 Section 11(c) complaints the agency launched formal investigations into during fiscal year 2016, only 29 were referred to Department of Labor attorneys for possible lawsuits, according to agency records.

In a lawsuit filed Feb. 15, OSHA accuses a Rockford, Ill., hotel owner, Beltway Hospitality LLC, of terminating a mechanical engineer after he notified the agency about alleged electrical hazards at a hotel. William Chatman, the engineer, notified OSHA Feb. 6, 2015 of the hazards at Clock Tower Resort, and was terminated just six days later ( Hugler v. Beltway Hosp. , N.D. Ill., No. 17-1182, 2/15/17 ).

Beltway couldn’t be reached by Bloomberg BNA for comment on Feb. 16.

A lawsuit filed Feb. 14 alleges Celanese Corp. and a pair of related companies fired two workers in July 2016. Employees Alfredo Ortiz and David Ruiz voiced their worries to supervisors and OSHA about safety issues at a facility in Bishop, Texas, including the handling of hazardous chemicals ( Dep’t of Labor v. Celanese Corp. , S.D. Tex., No. 17-0064, 2/14/17 ).

Celanese spokesman Travis Jacobsen told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16 that while the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation, Celanese will contest the lawsuit.

In both cases, OSHA requests employers to offer reinstatement or front pay; compensation for other costs and suffering; and expunge their personnel files of references to the dismissals.

The Beltway case was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Travis Gosselin of the DOL’s Office of the Solicitor regional office in Chicago represents the government.

The Celanese case was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Dolores Wolfe of the DOL’s Office of the Solicitor regional office in Dallas represents the government.

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 Beltway complaint is available at http://src.bna.com/mgX.The Celanese complaint is available at http://src.bna.com/mgZ.

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