U.S. marshals accompanied by special agents from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General seized a vehicle at the residence of Richard Kohler, president of Brocon Petroleum Inc., after Brocon Petroleum and Kohler failed to pay $7,500 in back wages to a former employee, according to an OSHA news statement. The back wages were the result of a consent judgment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey to resolve a lawsuit filed by the Labor Department in March 2008.
The suit was filed after OSHA found the company had violated the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. An investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program found the defendants had terminated the employee in retaliation because they suspected he had called OSHA and caused an inspection. The defendants fired the complainant following the inspection of the employer's worksite conducted by OSHA in response to an anonymous complaint about safety practices at the worksite.
Under the consent judgment, Brocon Petroleum had agreed to pay the former employee's back wages in addition to removing all reference to suspension or discharge from the employee's personnel file and posting a notice notifying current employees of their whistleblower rights. However, the company failed to comply with the monetary terms of the consent judgment.
"This action should send a clear message that there will be consequences for retaliating against employees who engage in activities protected by law," says Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. "While OSHA is best known for ensuring the safety and health of employees, it is also a whistleblower protection agency."
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 16 other statutes protecting workers who report violations of various trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail and securities laws.