Florida arts school runs afoul of whistleblower protection program
OSHA is suing Renaissance Arts and Education Inc., doing business as Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, to reinstate a former employee with full back wages and benefits. The lawsuit results from an OSHA investigation that found the privately-run charter school had unlawfully and intentionally terminated the worker's employment for voicing and reporting concerns regarding hazards in the school's two theaters – activities that are protected by the whistleblower protection provisions of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
On June 20, 2009, the employee submitted a letter to his direct supervisor that addressed alleged safety hazards, specifically, improperly placed extension cords and a lack of sprinkler systems. The school did not respond to the letter. On July 14, the employee filed a complaint with OSHA reporting the same concerns. After OSHA communicated with the school, on July 30, the employee disputed the school's response to the safety complaint, and the employee was notified that his position was being terminated. On Aug. 4, OSHA performed a safety inspection and cited the school for safety violations related to the employee's expressed concerns.
The Labor Department's suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, asks for an order that includes a permanent injunction against the school to prevent future violations of the OSH Act. It also seeks the reinstatement of the former employee with full benefits; payment of back wages, punitive damages and compensatory damages; removal of references to the matters at issue in this case from the employee's personnel file; and any other appropriate relief. The Labor Department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta is representing OSHA in court.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of Section 11(c) of the OSH Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, 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.