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Mercury spill leads to whistleblower complaint against Ohio dentist (7/7)

July 12, 2011
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OSHA has filed a complaint in federal court against Niles Family Dentistry and owner Dr. A. Scott Santucci for allegedly violating OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Act by creating a hostile work environment for two employees and forcing them to resign. Santucci harassed the two employees because he suspected them of reporting two June, 2010 mercury spills at the dental practice to OSHA. 

"Failing to protect workers from known hazardous substances such as mercury is inexcusable," said Michael Connors, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago. "Taking retaliatory action against employees for reporting safety concerns is a clear violation of the law." 

Santucci is alleged to have reduced working hours and created a hostile work environment by repeatedly cursing and threatening a dental auxiliary employee who had refused to work until the mercury spills were adequately cleaned by qualified personnel. The employee worked at the dental practice from August 2007 until she resigned on June 24, 2010, citing a hostile work environment. 

Santucci also is alleged to have reduced working hours and created a hostile work environment by repeatedly cursing and threatening a second worker after she refused to clean the spilled mercury. The second worker was employed by the dental practice from April 2005 until she resigned on June 21, 2010, also citing a hostile work environment. 

The Labor Department is seeking reinstatement of both employees to their positions; payment of lost wages and benefits, including interest and punitive damages; and expunction of any mention of their protected activity from their employment records. OSHA also is seeking to require the dental office to post a notice to employees stating they it will not discriminate against employees for engaging in protected activities such as OSHA notification. The suit further seeks to enjoin Niles Family Dentistry and Santucci from violating the Occupational and Safety Health Act in the future.

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