The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that it filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma City against Modern Oil Company, the operator of 30 Kwick Stop convenience stores. The lawsuit alleges that after OSHA investigated a workplace safety complaint at one of its stores in Shawnee, Oklahoma, management grilled the three employees of that store until it determined who called OSHA. Management then promptly fired the identified whistleblower. The employee was a cashier at the convenience store who complained first to management, and then to OSHA about how the tall stacks of liquor bottles posed a hazard.This case is an example of how whistleblower issues can arise in any type of workplace.
Under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, whistleblowers do not own any cause of action themselves. Only the Secretary of Labor can file lawsuits to recover damages for workplace health and safety whistleblowers. OSHA's decision to seek such a lawsuit is equivalent to an OSHA determination that retaliation occurred. Luckily, the Solicitor of Labor decided to file this lawsuit. It was filed July 15, 2010. It is case number 5:10-cv-00748-M in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. By now, the company would have received the lawsuit. I called the lawyer listed for Modern Oil Company and he told me that he no longer represents them. OSHA is seeking reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages on behalf of the whistleblower.
If Congress would pass the Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA), H.R. 2067, then the Solicitor of Labor would not have to file Section 11(c) lawsuits, and OSHA could just issue orders for these remedies, subject to review by due process administrative hearings. You can read our previous blog posts about PAWA here, here here and here.