Idaho employer fined $100K for retaliating against safety whistleblower
Judge calls co. owner's conduct "reprehensible"
The owner of a Sandpoint, Idaho oil change facility will pay $100,000 to an employee who was fired for reporting safety concerns to OSHA.
A federal judge upheld the findings on Sept. 29 of an OSHA investigation. Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho cited Sydney Oskoui, owner of Sandpoint Gas N Go Lube Center Inc., for his “reprehensible” conduct. Calling it a clear case of intentional retaliation, Winmill also ordered Oskoui and his company to pay $979 in damages and interest to compensate the employee for his lost wages.
Sending a message
“The court got this one right,” said Regional Solicitor Janet Herold. ”By awarding punitive damages, the court sent a message that retaliation against workers who report safety violations will not be tolerated.”
The court also issued a permanent injunction barring Oskoui and his business from retaliating against employees who report safety problems in the future, told him to post a copy of the order at the business, and to notify employees on how to contact OSHA if he violates the injunction.
Citations prompted firing
OSHA investigated the mechanic’s complaint, and cited the employer for safety and health violations in 2012. Upon receipt of the citations and proposed penalties, the employer fired the employee. The department determined in September 2014 that Oskoui had wrongfully fired the worker for filing a safety complaint with the agency’s Boise Area Office.
“Employees at all businesses - large and small - need to know that if they report violations to OSHA and believe they have been retaliated against as a result, we will investigate their claims to protect them,” said Ken Atha, regional administrator for OSHA in Seattle.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 21 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various commercial motor carrier, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, public transportation agency, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, railroad, maritime, health care reform, food safety, securities and financial reform laws.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.