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U.S. Suit Targets Whistleblower’s Boss

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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Federal authorities are suing a New York asbestos contractor who allegedly fired an employee for raising concerns about a shoddy asbestos removal job at a school.



The suit says that Champagne Demolition fired an employee the day after he or she expressed concern about asbestos removal practices at a local school.

The U.S. Labor Department is seeking sanctions against Champagne Demolition LLC and manager Joseph Champagne, of Albany. They are accused of firing and verbally threatening a member of the crew that performed the work in 2010.

Retaliation Cited

Solis v. Champagne Demolition LLC and Joseph Champagne (Civil Action Number: 12-CV-01278), filed Aug. 14 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, charges that the defendants discriminated against the employee by conducting retaliatory acts in violation of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

DOL does not publicly identify whistleblowers. Champagne Demolition did not respond this week to a request for comment.

Champagne advertises: “When you need to have a building, structure or nearly anything else knocked down to rubble, you can rely on the expert and professional services of Champagne Demolition to leave nothing but dust!”

OSHA Investigation

The case stems from an asbestos removal job at Gloversville High School, in Albany. The worker lodged concerns about improper practices on June 10, 2010. The next day, the employee was fired, the Labor Department says.

The worker then filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which opened a whistleblower investigation and substantiated the worker's claims.

The suit asks the court to:

• Order the defendants to offer the employee reinstatement with full benefits and no break in seniority;

• Order restoration of lost wages as well as compensatory, punitive, emotional and financial distress damages;

• Expunge the employee's personnel record of any reference to the circumstances in the matter; and

• Post a notice of employees' right to report hazards without retaliation.

Intimidating Workers

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 21 other statutes that protect employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and other laws.

Under these laws, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or government. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program.

"All employees have the right to report potential safety and health hazards to their employers and to proper authorities without fear of harassment, termination or other retaliation," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York.

"Such behavior can intimidate workers into silence, putting them at risk if they are afraid to report conditions that can injure or sicken them. That is unacceptable, and the Labor Department will take all necessary legal steps on behalf of whistleblowing workers."

Whistleblowing on the Rise

Federal whistleblowing cases have surged since 2005, OSHA reported last year.

Scores of federal and state whistleblower protections have been put in place in recent years, and a new law last year began providing monetary rewards for whistleblowers.

In 2011, OSHA logged 2,339 whistleblowing cases by Sept. 14—more than it had logged in all of 2010 and nearly 200 more cases than in all of 2009, according to a report by MSNBC.

“Any uptick is a good sign,” Geoffrey Rapp, the Harold A. Anderson Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo’s College of Law, told the news outlet.

“The goal here is to get information about fraud before it becomes so serious, as in the collapse of [Bernard] Madoff and Enron, where the whole company falls apart, or the economy falls apart.”


Tagged categories: Asbestos; Construction; Demolition; Hazardous waste; Health and safety; Schools

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/12/2012, 8:24 AM)

Their motto to "...leave nothing but dust!" would certainly be an issue with Asbestos mitigation...

Comment from James Johnson, (9/12/2012, 1:40 PM)

The double standard is amazing! The whistle blowers who worked for the ATFE and brought the "Fast & Furious" scandal to light have been intentionally targeted by the DOJ and removed from their jobs by the ATFE. If the contractor should be prosecuted for his actions against a whistle blower, should not the heads of the DOJ and ATFE be prosecuted? Or is this country now operating on a standard similar to Hugo Chavez? I also read this morning that a Gallup poll announced that Romney is ahead in the polls, which is now resulting in an investigation by the DOJ. Do these cases sound like school yard bullying or a double standard?

Comment from John Fauth, (9/13/2012, 9:38 AM)

James, it sounds like the politicization of justice, which is supposed to be blind. But it's nothing new, and it's nothing unique to one party or the other. It's what we get, and deserve, when we allow government to regulate nearly every aspect of our lives. So now it's pollsters. Then they came for me.

Comment from William Feliciano, (9/13/2012, 10:45 AM)

Recently i heard a great term to describe this trend in America: the criminalization of dissent.

Comment from John Fauth, (9/13/2012, 1:19 PM)

Great term, William!

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