A lawsuit by meat plant workers against the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, claiming the agency failed to protect them from COVID-19, has been dismissed by a Pennsylvania federal judge.

The suit was brought by workers at a Maid-Rite Specialty Foods plant in northeastern Pennsylvania that processes frozen meat for institutional foodservice. It claimed that OSHA inspectors failed to cite the plant or take other actions, despite receiving complaints that Maid-Rite had failed to institute social distancing, provide masks or hand-washing opportunities, or inform workers of potential exposure, and that it had “rotated in workers from other facilities in a way that increases the risk of spread.” It asked the court to conduct an on-site inspection and to “engage in all other actions and proceedings necessary to resolving all the imminent dangers identified in the complaint.”

However, in a decision issued March 30, U.S. District Court judge Malachy Mannion dismissed the lawsuit, stating that because no OSHA inspector had found an imminent threat to employees, no cause of action existed.

Mannion wrote, “The court shares Plaintiffs’ concern that there is no apparent remedy for employees in the event that an OSHA investigator declines to find imminent danger or if the investigation takes an excessive length of time before a finding of imminent danger is made. Plaintiffs’ valid concerns about continuing to be subject to the apparent imminent danger in the interim are well taken.” But, he added, courts have no jurisdiction to force OSHA to take action and “the remedy lies with the Legislature and not the courts.”