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Labor Department settles with company that fired asbestos whistleblower

whistleThe U.S. Department of Labor has entered into an agreement with CMM Realty Inc., a South Carolina-based real estate management company headquartered in Columbia, and owner C. Michael Munson, resolving a lawsuit filed by the department alleging the illegal termination of a maintenance employee who raised workplace and environmental concerns regarding asbestos at a work site.

A consent judgment filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, provides for the payment of $45,000 to the employee as well as injunctive relief that permanently prohibits the defendants from violating the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The judgment also requires the defendants to display OSHA posters and whistleblower protection fact sheets in English and Spanish at the company's facilities; expunge all disciplinary actions in the employee's official employment record; and provide any prospective employers with a neutral reference for this worker.

"OSHA is committed to securing workers' right of protection from retaliation upon reporting workplace safety and/or environmental concerns," said Cindy A. Coe, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta. "We are pleased that the Labor Department has reached an agreement in this matter consistent with our commitment."

The employee, who worked at CMM Realty's Briargate Condominiums in Columbia, had reported asbestos exposures on May 13, 2009, to both the South Carolina OSHA Program and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Conservation. On that same day the employee was informed that his services were no longer needed, and five days later, was officially notified of his termination. Both state agencies conducted inspections and issued citations against CMM Realty for violating asbestos control standards.

The employee then filed a complaint with federal OSHA under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act as well as the Clean Air Act (42 U.S. Code 7622). OSHA conducted an investigation, found the company had violated the Clean Air Act's whistleblower provisions, and ordered that the employee be reinstated and compensated. The company appealed that order to the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. In 2011, the department sued the company in federal court for violating Section 11(c) of the OSH Act – which forbids companies from discriminating against an employee for filing a complaint with OSHA – and requested to have the Clean Air Act case stayed pending the outcome of the Section 11(c) litigation. This consent judgment settles both departmental claims in this matter.

OSHA was represented in federal district court by the Labor Department's Office of the Solicitor and by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of South Carolina.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions the OSH Act, as well as 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

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