OSHA whistle-blower wins significant retaliation lawsuit

We often discuss the fact that employers in Wisconsin are prohibited by law from retaliating against employees who report wrongdoing, such as discrimination or harassment. Federal employees have very specific legal protections in this regard. The Whistleblower Protection Act, which was passed 1989, offers protections to federal employees who report the misconduct of the agencies they work for, allowing them to obtain compensation if they are retaliated against.

One of the largest settlements ever approved under this law was just issued this week. The U.S. Department of Labor has agreed to pay the former Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s lead record-keeping official $820,000.

The man, Bob Whitmore, was fired by OSHA back in 2009 after he talked to news reporters who were investigating dangerous conditions in the poultry industry, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Whitmore had been an employee of the Labor Department for almost 40 years at the time, and after he was fired he filed a lawsuit under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

In his complaint, he accused the federal agency of firing him because of his public criticism of OSHA, related to allowing employers to underreport workplace injuries.

This case is very significant because, among other things, it demonstrates that the government has a very tough burden to meet when defending retaliatory actions. Additionally, many whistle-blower settlements are never made public, so the publicity of this settlement may remind federal workers of their rights–as well as remind federal officials of their responsibilities under the law. Those who have been retaliated against for blowing a whistle on an employer–whether they are public or private sector employees–may benefit from employment law counsel. 

Source: The Charlotte Observer, “Feds to pay OSHA whistleblower $820,000 settlement,” Ames Alexander, June 5, 2013

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