In a curious case involving a face-off between two governmental agencies, the federal Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for Missouri’s Eastern District against the United States Postal Service. The litigation filed is on behalf of an employee who worked in the maintenance department of the St. Louis Network Distribution Center located in Hazelwood, Mo.
The suit alleges that the worker suffered reprisals after reporting unsafe working conditions and was charged falsely with making a terrorist threat. According to court documents, the USPS was in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which provides whistleblower protection to employees reporting unsafe working conditions.
The Department of Labor alleges that the maintenance worker’s duties were to maintain the air conditioning, ventilation, boilers and heating equipment at the distribution center. In December of 2009, he reported a suspected carbon monoxide leak to his supervisors. He also alerted them to a fuel oil spill and a potentially dangerous accumulation of fuel oil-soaked rags in the building’s boiler room, all of which posed a safety hazard.
No attention was paid to his safety concerns, so he tried to alert a fire marshal regarding the supposed leaking carbon monoxide. When he still received no response, he called 911. His supervisors told emergency personnel who responded that he was a “disgruntled” employee who was “attempting to sabotage the facility.” The following day, the USPS suspended the 35-year employee without any disciplinary marks against his record.
Almost six months later, the USPS backpedaled and rescinded the notice of removal, restoring the worker’s benefits but failing to compensate him for over two weeks’ suspension. He sued for that and the consequential damages he sustained, along with the additional relief to which he is entitled. OSHA’s Kansas City Regional Office of the Solicitor is pursuing the case.
Wrongfully terminated workers often feel powerless and that they have no recourse. In similar cases, a legal professional can clarify which workers’ rights apply and what can legally be done.
Source: KMOX, “False Charges, Reprisals Against Post Office Worker Prompts Anti-Retaliation Lawsuit” Jul. 14, 2014