Worker reports serious injury; employer gets him arrested by ICE
Text messages, phone calls tell the tale
OSHA has filed a lawsuit against a Boston, Massachusetts-based contractor, alleging that the company retaliated against an injured employee by facilitating his arrest.
The complaint filed last month with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against Tara Construction Inc. and its chief executive officer, Pedro Pirez, states that the worker sustained a serious injury when he fell from a ladder on March 29, 2017. He reported his injury to his employers. OSHA found out about the fall and investigated.
14 phone calls between Pirez and law enforcement
That, according to the suit, is when the defendants initiated a law enforcement investigation and facilitated the employee’s detainment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Pirez arranged for the employee to meet him at the Tara Construction office and the employee was arrested immediately after leaving the building. Although defendant Pirez testified to OSHA that he had no idea how law enforcement knew where the employee would be when he was detained, a law enforcement account indicates that Pirez told an officer present at the arrest when the employee would be at Tara Construction’s office. Pirez further advised the officer that he had no objection to the employee’s arrest there. This account is supported by text messages and records of approximately 14 telephone calls between defendant Pirez and law enforcement in the days surrounding the arrest.
An investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program concluded that the defendants’ actions constituted retaliation against the employee for protected activity under the OSH Act and would dissuade a reasonable worker from reporting an injury.
Immigration status doesn't affect workplace rights
Reporting an injury to an employer and causing an OSHA proceeding to be instituted are protected activities under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), which prohibits retaliation against employees because they engage in such activities.
“Employees must be able to report injuries and unsafe workplaces without fear that their employers will retaliate,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton.
“The OSH Act prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights, regardless of the employees’ immigration status,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher.
What OSHA wants
OSHA’s suit asks the court to order the defendants to comply with the OSH Act’s anti-retaliation provisions, and pay the employee back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages. It also seeks an order requiring that Tara Construction provide a neutral letter of reference, expunge from their files any information regarding the adverse action against the employee in this case, and notify employees of their whistleblower rights under the OSH Act. The Department’s Office of the Solicitor in Boston is litigating the case.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.