DOL Says Company Retaliated Against Injured Undocumented Worker
The U.S. Labor Department has sued a Massachusetts construction company, saying it retaliated against an undocumented worker who filed a workers’ compensation claim by reporting his immigration status, leading to his arrest.
The complaint against Boston-based Tara Construction Inc. and CEO Pedro Pirez was filed Feb. 27 with the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.
The worker, Jose Martin Paz Flores, was hurt March 29, 2017 when he fell from a ladder while working for Tara Construction.
He reported his injury, resulting in an OSHA investigation.
OSHA, in a news release, said reporting an injury to an employer that results in an OSHA inquiry is a protected activity under federal law, which prohibits an employer from retaliating.
OSHA did not identify Paz but he has gone public in media interviews.
The labor department alleges that shortly after Paz reported the injury, Pirez contacted law enforcement, leading to the arrest. Federal law prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights, regardless of immigration status.
Pirez arranged for Paz to meet him at the Tara Construction office, and Paz was taken into custody directly after leaving the building.
Pirez testified to OSHA that he had no idea how law enforcement knew Paz was there, OSHA said.
Pirez exchanged 14 texts and phone calls with law enforcement in the days surrounding the arrest, OSHA claims.
Federal law prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights, regardless of immigration status.
An investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program concluded Pirez' actions constituted retaliation for reporting the injury.
"Employees must be able to report injuries and unsafe workplaces without fear that their employers will retaliate," said OSHA regional administrator Galen Blanton.
Massachusetts Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher says the law prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights, "regardless of the employee's immigration status."
The lawsuit asks the court to order Pirez and Tara Construction to comply with the federal act's anti-retaliation provision, and pay Paz back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages.
It also asks the court to order Tara Construction to expunge from its files any negative information about Paz, and to notify employees of their whistleblower rights.
A story by WBUR radio indicates a Boston police sergeant was involved in the arrest and that Tara Construction did not have workers' compensation insurance as its policy was cancelled for nonpayment.
The station also reported that Paz has obtained work authorization and must check in regularly with immigration officials while he pursues legal status.
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