In 2012, a whistleblower brought claims against the Champagne Demolition, LLC, for improperly disposing of asbestos. Now, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York has found the company guilty, based on the fact that the former employee was fired after reporting the illegal practices to a supervisor.
Upon being fired, the whistleblower filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). An investigation was opened through the agency’s regional Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs in New York. The agency found merit in the claims of unsafe asbestos removal work conditions at a school site reported by the worker, as well as the firing and threats made by the company.
It’s not uncommon for schools to need asbestos work. Many still contain the toxic material in their insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, and more, largely due to its excellent heat- and fire-resistant properties. Unfortunately for many students this year, back to school meant back to asbestos.
According to OSHA Regional Administrator Robert Kulik, “Every worker has the right to report potential safety and health hazards without fear of harassment, termination, or retaliation.”
It was ruled by the program that the company owner Joseph A. Champagne did indeed discriminate against the employee with retaliatory acts in violation of OSHA Section 11(c).
“We are pleased with the jury verdict and the judge’s ruling to hold this employer accountable for violating the employee’s rights,” said Kulik.
Due to the nature of the job, construction workers are often faced with toxic substances such as asbestos while in confined spaces. This greatly contributes to the group being the most hazardous of all land-based occupations (and second only to the fishing industry overall).
A surprising 17% of construction injuries are due to exposure to toxic materials, the deadliest of which is asbestos. About 10,000 workers are predicted to die each year for the next ten years from diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis. These diseases are exclusively caused by working with (or around) asbestos without adequate protective measures.
The U.S. District Court has ordered Champagne to pay $103,000 in back wages, $20,000 in compensatory, and $50,000 in punitive damages to the worker.
According to New York Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff, “This jury verdict and the judge’s ruling on this case underscores the Labor Department’s commitment to ensuring that the law is followed and employees’ right to a healthy and safe workplace is maintained.”