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OSHA sues S.C. real estate company over whistleblower termination (6/16)

OSHA has sued a South Carolina real estate management company CMM Realty Inc. for allegedly firing an employee who voiced and reported workplace and environmental concerns regarding asbestos at one of the company's worksites.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, alleges that CMI Realty Inc. violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act when it terminated the individual's employment. OSHA is asking that the court provide him all appropriate relief, including reinstatement to his former position, back pay, interest and compensatory damages, as well as prohibit the defendant from future violations.

On May 13, 2009, the employee voiced concerns to the owner of CMM Realty concerning asbestos exposure at the company's Briargate Condominiums. The following day, he filed complaints with the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Conservations. Both agencies conducted inspections and issued citations against CMM Realty for violating asbestos control standards. On that same day, the employee was informed that his services were no longer needed. On May 18, he was notified officially of his termination from the company.

In June 2009, the employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. After conducting an investigation, the agency found that CMM Realty had unlawfully terminated the individual's employment for reporting concerns to management about exposure to asbestos and for filing complaints with the two state agencies. In November 2010, OSHA enforced the whistleblower provisions of the Clean Air Act by ordering the company to reinstate the whistleblower and pay him $56,222 in compensatory damages and back wages, which continue to accumulate while he is out of work. The company appealed that order to the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges, where it awaits review.

OSHA is now suing the company in federal court for violating Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, which forbids companies from discriminating against an employee because he or she has filed a complaint with OSHA.

"We at OSHA are very serious about protecting America's workforce and ensuring that employees have a voice about the safety of their work environment," said Cindy A. Coe, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta. "Employers found in violation of the whistleblower protection provisions of the OSH Act, Clean Air Act or any of the whistleblower laws we enforce will be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

CMM Realty Inc. is a real estate management corporation with its main office in Columbia, S.C.

OSHA is represented in federal district court by the Labor Department's Office of the Solicitor.

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 an employer or to the government.

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