A federal court has ordered that three employees of the Charter Oak Heath Center be compensated after being wrongfully terminated for speaking out about a tuberculosis exposure at the facility.

When the Charter Oak Health Center failed to adequately respond to a tuberculosis exposure in December 2011, its interim senior vice-president for operations, director of nursing, and coordinator of its Healthy Start program actively tried or were associated with efforts to raise awareness among fellow employees, management, and the public about the potential dangers.

Among other things, they cooperated with public and workplace health agencies that investigated.

Two months later, on Feb. 24, 2012, Charter Oak Health Center and its then-chief executive officer, Alfreda D. Turner, terminated the three employees.

A subsequent OSHA whistleblower investigation found that the terminations were unwarranted because the employees’ actions were protected under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

OSHA, the center, and Turner have now agreed to a settlement and a federal court consent judgment and order that provides that the center and Turner will compensate the three former employees for lost wages and take other corrective action.

“It’s critical to workplace safety and health that employee voices not be stifled,” says Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.

Employees have a legal right to raise health and safety concerns about their workplaces without fear of retaliation.
Michael Felsen, the U.S. Department of Labor's New England regional solicitor, adds, “We remind companies that employees have a legal right to raise health and safety concerns about their workplaces without fear of retaliation and that it’s in the interest of everyone to address those concerns.”

On June 19, the Hartford Courant reported that Charter Oak released a statement saying that the clinic continues "to believe that there were legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for the terminations of each of the three individuals," and that Charter Oak has "dramatically improved [its] infection control processes since 2012 and [has] had no further incidents."

Terms of the Settlement

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, the consent judgment stipulates corrective actions, including payment of lost wages of $85,000, $30,000, and $10,000, less taxes, for the three workers, neutral letters of reference, and worksite posting and individual notifications to employees about their rights as a whistleblower.