How did an employee’s complaint about a rodent problem at work turn into a whistleblower lawsuit?
Short answer: He complained to OSHA and was fired a day later.
The employee of Aquatech Technologies in Stuart, FL, had reported serious concerns to management about rodents and rodent droppings in the office. The company’s owner, Allan Lochhead, placed rodent traps in the office, but the problem continued.
The employee complained again, but Lochhead reportedly said there was no rodent problem.
After that, the employee filed a health complaint with OSHA. One day after the company was notified of the OSHA complaint, the employee was fired.
Next, the employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. The agency investigated and found the company and Lochhead had unlawfully and intentionally terminated the worker for engaging in activity protected by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.
Now, OSHA’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Labor, is suing the company and Lochhead.
The suit seeks to:
- have the employee reinstated and paid back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages
- expunge the employee’s personnel records with respect to the matters at issue in the case, and
- bar the employer against future violations of the law by a permanent injunction with the court granting any other appropriate relief.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Fort Pierce Division.
The OSH Act and 20 other statutes protect employees who report violations of various regulations to federal authorities. OSHA is charged with investigating these cases.
Last August, OSHA announced steps it would take to boost its whistleblower protection program, including the addition of 25 new investigators. OSHA’s proposed 2013 budget would also move more resources into the whistleblower program. OSHA’s whistleblower web page is here.