Whistle-Blower Suit Defends Workers Who Assisted OSHA

Rely on Occupational Safety & Health ReporterSM for full news coverage and documentation of federal and state workplace safety and health programs, standards, legislation,...

By Bruce Rolfsen

March 8 — A Pennsylvania manufacturing company, which already is contesting an $822,000 proposed fine, was sued March 8 by OSHA for firing two employees in alleged violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act's whistle-blower protection provisions.

The suit was filed against Lloyd Industries Inc., based in Montgomeryville, Pa., and its owner, William P. Lloyd. The company manufacturers building ventilation systems and fire safety equipment.

The lawsuit is the fourth court action against employers initiated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since Feb. 17 in defense of workers who the agency concluded were wrongly fired or disciplined in violation of the act's Section 11(c) .

Typically, OSHA, with the assistance of the Department of Labor's Office of the Solicitor, only takes an OSH Act case to federal court when attempts to reach a settlement with the employer have failed. An agency spokesman told Bloomberg BNA March 8 the timing of the lawsuits was a coincidence.

Inspection Found Violations

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the whistle-blower allegations are intertwined with a November 2014 inspection that led to OSHA citing Lloyd Industries for 23 alleged violations on May 11, 2015.

Among the problems identified by OSHA were 12 willful violations, most involving a machine guarding standard requiring that machine contact points be guarded, keeping workers away from danger zones .

Crushed Fingers

The events directly leading to the inspection began several months before on July 11, 2014, when a worker operating a press brake that lacked machine guarding suffered three crushed fingers that later were amputated, the lawsuit says.

Following the accident, company owner Lloyd fired the injured worker.

The injured worker filed a workers' compensation claim with the assistance of another Lloyd Industries employee who took photographs of the press brake and other unguarded machines, the lawsuit says.

On Nov. 6, 2014, the injured worker told OSHA about the unguarded machinery, and on Nov. 13, 2014, OSHA began inspecting the plant.

Five days after the inspection, owner Lloyd fired the worker who had taken the pictures and didn't say why, the lawsuit says. In turn, the worker filed a whistle-blower complaint with OSHA.

Four months after the initial OSHA visit to plant, the agency subpoenaed a supervisor who provided sworn testimony to OSHA.

Fired for Testimony?

Owner Lloyd received the citations May 11, 2015. Then, within a few hours, he fired the supervisor who OSHA has subpoenaed, the lawsuit says. The day after the supervisor was dismissed, he filed an OSHA whistle-blower complaint.

OSHA investigated the whistle-blower complaints and concluded that Lloyd fired the two workers for activities that are protected by Section 11(c). The section says an employer can't discharge or discriminate against any employee because the employee filed or assisted in filing a complaint, provided evidence or testified.

The lawsuit asks the court to reinstate the two workers, pay lost wages, award punitive damages and pay the department's legal costs.

A spokesman for Lloyd Industries said told Bloomberg BNA March 8 the company would defend itself against the lawsuit.

By Bruce Rolfsen

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 complaint for is available at http://src.bna.com/c9D.

Request Occupational Safety & Health Reporter℠