The U.S. Department of Labor has entered into a settlement agreement with Pilgrim's Pride Corp. in Mount Pleasant to resolve an investigation by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration into the company's termination of an employee who raised environmental complaints, in violation of the whistleblower provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
OSHA initiated an investigation upon receiving a complaint from a manager for water reclamation at the company's chicken processing plant who had alerted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality when process and storm water containing excessive amounts of chromium, lead and mercury were discharged into the environment. According to the complainant, Pilgrim's Pride stated that the TCEQ did not need to be notified and that sharing the information was not in the company's best interest, and consequently terminated the complainant's employment.
Prior to OSHA issuing its investigative findings, the parties reached an agreement in which the employer will pay the complainant $50,000. Pilgrim's Pride also has agreed to post a notice to employees advising them of their whistleblower rights, purge any derogatory information in the employee's personnel file directly related to the incident and provide a neutral job reference. In exchange, the employee will not seek reinstatement.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and 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. Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government.
Any employee who believes he or she has been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employer whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at www.whistleblowers.gov.