OSHAThe owner of a marine construction company allegedly created hostile working conditions by making physically threatening gestures, inappropriate sexual comments and advances and yelling and screaming – as well as withholding the paycheck of an employee who objected  to that behavior.

OSHA found that Duane Thomas, owner of Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC in Florida, fired an employee after he reported workplace violence.

The U.S. Department of Labor is suing Thomas for back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as front pay in lieu of reinstatement. Additionally, it seeks to have the employee's personnel records expunged with respect to the matters at issue in this case and to bar the employer against future violations of the OSH Act.

The employee, who worked directly for Thomas at the company's custom marine dock installation services site on Marco Island, filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA Feb. 25, 2011, alleging discrimination by Thomas for having reported the conditions to him. On March 18, 2011, Thomas received notification of the complaint filing. On March 23, 2011, Thomas had computer passwords changed in order to deny the employee remote access to files and then terminated the employee. OSHA's subsequent investigation found merit to the employee's complaint.

"Employees have the right to raise workplace violence concerns without fear of retaliation," said Teresa Harrison, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Atlanta. "OSHA will continue to enforce the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act to protect employees who report violations."