Product Innovations / Compliance

OSHA sues Houston air conditioning company for firing whistleblower (3/14)

March 14, 2011
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OSHA has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging that Houston-based Goodman Manufacturing Co. LP, and its parent company Goodman Global Inc., violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act when they terminated an employee who had complained to supervisors about the companies' recordkeeping practices required by OSHA.

"Employees should be free to exercise their rights under the law without fear of termination or retaliation by their employers," said William A. Burke, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Dallas. "This lawsuit underscores the Labor Department's commitment to vigorously taking action to protect those rights."

The worker filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA alleging retaliation in violation of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which prohibits discharge or other retaliation against workers for filing a safety or health complaint, or for exercising a wide range of other rights afforded to them by the act. OSHA whistleblower investigators found that the employee was suspended for alleged insubordination after raising concerns to supervisors that the company had failed to properly record and report job-related injuries to OSHA. The insubordination charge was later found by an independent investigation to be without merit. Following the suspension, the company offered the employee a lesser position, which was refused, resulting in the employee's termination.

In addition to back pay and reinstatement, the Labor Department is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the employee, and seeks to enjoin Goodman Manufacturing and Goodman Global from future retaliation against employees. Goodman Manufacturing Co. manufactures residential and light commercial air conditioning, heating, and indoor air quality products and systems.

After being terminated, the employee made a complaint to OSHA about Goodman Manufacturing's recordkeeping practices. OSHA conducted a health and safety inspection based on the complaint. On Sept. 1, 2010, the agency issued the company 83 willful citations with fines totaling $1,215,000 for its deliberate failure to properly record work-related injuries and illnesses.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 20 additional statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities laws, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, rail, workplace safety and health regulations, and consumer product and food safety laws. Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.

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