The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut has ordered Watertown-based Eastern Awning Systems Inc.—a manufacturer of retractable fabric patio awnings—to pay a combined $160,000 to two discharged employees who filed safety and health complaints with OSHA.

The employees filed the complaints after they became ill while working in the plant's powder coat room in June 2009.

In response to the complaints, OSHA inspected the facility and cited the company in December 2009 for willfully exposing the workers to inhalation hazards and for lack of adequate ventilation.

While OSHA's inspection was ongoing, the company discharged the two employees.

A subsequent OSHA whistleblower investigation found the employer unlawfully fired the two employees because they had filed the complaints.

After efforts to resolve the matter without litigation were unsuccessful, the U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against the defendants in November 2015.

Court Ruling

In addition to ordering alleged back pay, interest, emotional, and exemplary damages, the consent judgment and order restrains the defendants from discriminating against employees who exercise their rights.

The judgment also requires the employer to provide neutral letters of reference for the two discharged employees and post the judgment and notice of employees' rights prominently at the workplace.

“The U.S. Department of Labor will pursue appropriate legal action, as it did in this case, to ensure that employees have the right to a safe and healthful workplace without fear of discrimination or retaliation,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Maia Fisher in a statement.

“Employers have a responsibility to comply with all applicable requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which includes ensuring employees of their right to voice safety and health concerns, and contact OSHA without retaliation,” added OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws.

CBIA's on-demand safety compliance training program (powered by Training Network Now) is a convenient, cost-effective way for you to protect your employees and your business. CBIA members save 90% off the regular price. Sign up or register for a free, no-obligation 14-day trial today!

Register now for the OSHA 10-Hour for General Industry Outreach program, Feb. 12–13 at the CBIA Conference Center in Hartford.