PALMETTO, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has sued Renaissance Arts and Education Inc., doing business as Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, to reinstate a former employee with full back wages and benefits. The lawsuit results from an OSHA investigation that found the privately-run charter school had unlawfully and intentionally terminated the worker's employment for voicing and reporting concerns regarding hazards in the school's two theaters – activities that are protected by the whistleblower protection provisions of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
"Employees who identify safety and health concerns in the workplace are protected by the law, and when these rights are violated, OSHA will take action," said Cindy Coe, the agency's regional administrator in Atlanta. "We will not tolerate disregard for employees' safety and health or the violation of whistleblower protections."
On June 20, 2009, the employee submitted a letter to his direct supervisor that addressed alleged safety hazards, specifically, improperly placed extension cords and a lack of sprinkler systems. The school did not respond to the letter. On July 14, the employee filed a complaint with OSHA reporting the same concerns. After OSHA communicated with the school, on July 30, the employee disputed the school's response to the safety complaint, and the employee was notified that his position was being terminated. On Aug. 4, OSHA performed a safety inspection and cited the school for safety violations related to the employee's expressed concerns.
The Labor Department's suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, asks for an order that includes a permanent injunction against the school to prevent future violations of the OSH Act. It also seeks the reinstatement of the former employee with full benefits; payment of back wages, punitive damages and compensatory damages; removal of references to the matters at issue in this case from the employee's personnel file; and any other appropriate relief. The Labor Department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta is representing OSHA in court.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of Section 11(c) of the OSH Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, consumer product and food safety laws.
Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Jacksonville Area Office at 904-232-2895.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Manatee School for the Arts
“US Department of Labor's OSHA sues Manatee School for the Arts for violating OSH Act whistleblower protection provisions; Employee of Palmetto, Fla., school allegedly fired for complaining about safety issues.” U.S. Department of Labor press release, 3/12/2012