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Bucket lift dispute turns costly for Georgia manufacturer (7/14)

An employee who was fired after raising concerns about the proper use of a bucket lift will receive back wages with interest, thanks to a settlement reached by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Blue Bird Corp., a Georgia-based school bus manufacturer. The agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the DOL alleging that the company illegally terminated the maintenance employee because he requested training after being required to use a bucket lift truck to install Christmas wreaths for the company.

Following the ensuing disagreement over whether the employee was trained, he was terminated.

Blue Bird must pay him $170,800 in back wages plus $5,625 in interest due on the back wages. Should the state of Georgia seek repayment of the unemployment benefits received by the employee, Blue Bird has agreed to pay that amount to the state. In addition, the company will pay the Labor Department's costs associated with the appeal in this case.

"After much litigation, we are pleased with the successful settlement of this case in favor of the employee. The courts confirmed the Labor Department's argument that every employee has the right to report any safety concerns in the workplace without fear of retaliation," said Cindy Coe, administrator of OSHA's Atlanta Regional Office. "The Labor Department will hold companies accountable when they violate basic worker rights."

An OSHA whistleblower investigation found that the employee was illegally terminated for refusing to work under unsafe conditions. When the company refused to reinstate the employee, the Labor Department's Office of the Solicitor filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Georgia, which ruled in favor of the department. The company appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which agreed with the department. Following those rulings, the company has agreed to the current settlement. Prior to this settlement, the company already had reinstated the employee in his job as part of the district court's ruling.

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