Safety and OSHA News

Feds sue church, allege retaliation for worker’s safety complaint on Facebook

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against an Arkansas church, alleging it retaliated against two employees for complaints about poor ventilation. One firing occurred after the pastor saw three Facebook posts about conditions at the church. 

The DOL says in September 2015, Darrin Carnahan, an employee of Soldiers of the Cross d/b/a Shepherd’s Chapel Church, told his supervisors that the church’s print shop had poor ventilation that was making him sick. Specifically, Carnahan claimed printer toner cartridges contained possible carcinogens. DOL’s lawsuit claims the supervisor took no action.

Then on Oct. 12, 2015, Carnahan sent a text message to his supervisor, requesting to speak to Shepherd’s Chapel’s board of directors about the print shop. The supervisor told Carnahan the two of them would meet, but not with the board.

The next day, the supervisor and the church’s pastor say they accepted Carnahan’s resignation, but Carnahan says he didn’t resign.

Carnahan’s wife, Kimberly, also worked for Shepherd’s Chapel.

The DOL lawsuit claims in early January 2016, the church’s pastor became aware of three Facebook posts Darrin Carnahan made in which he was critical of the church’s treatment of him and its failure to respond to his complaints about working in an unsafe environment.

On Jan. 13, 2016, the pastor called Kimberly into his office and told her that she was “biting the hand that feeds you,” according to the lawsuit. The pastor then fired Kimberly for insubordination.

The DOL claims the church discriminated against the Carnahans because they exercised their right to bring safety concerns to their employer.

The lawsuit seeks:

  • reimbursement for lost wages and benefits with interest
  • an offer of reinstatement to the Carnahans, or in lieu of that, front pay in an amount to be determined
  • expunging from all personnel and company records references to the circumstances that led to the Carnahans’ firings
  • compensation for any costs, expenses or other losses as a result of their firings
  • compensation for emotional pain and suffering and damage to their professional and personal reputations
  • punitive damages, and
  • an order that the church post in a prominent place for 60 days a notice stating it won’t discriminate against any employee for reporting safety concerns.

(Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor v. Soldiers of the Cross d/b/a Shepherd’s Chapel Church, U.S. Dist. Crt. Fayetteville, AR, No. 16-5014, filed 1/19/17)

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