Two employees of Eastern Awning Systems Inc. in Watertown filed safety and health and complaints with OSHA after they became ill while working in the plant’s powder coat room in June, 2009.

OSHA inspected the facility in response to the complaints, and the company was cited 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.

The employees then filed anti-discrimination, or whistleblower, complaints with OSHA regarding their terminations.

The whistleblower investigation found that that the defendants unlawfully discharged the two employees because they filed the safety and health complaints with OSHA.

Efforts to resolve the matter without resorting to adversarial litigation were unsuccessful.

Resolution Sought

The government’s lawsuit is asking the court to find that the defendants wrongfully discharged the employees and order them to:

  • Pay the discharged employees’ lost wages plus interest
  • Pay compensatory for emotional distress
  • Pay punitive damages
  • Be prohibited from such violations in the future
  • Post a workplace notice informing employees of their rights
  • Pay the costs of the lawsuit

“This is a case where an employer willfully exposed its employees to workplace hazards, then compounded its unacceptable behavior by retaliating against these workers for exercising their rights to a healthy work environment,” said Kim Stille, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.

“The law is clear and so is our message to employers: You cannot discriminate against employees for filing complaints with OSHA or voicing concerns about hazardous conditions in the workplace,” says Michael Felsen, the regional solicitor of labor for New England.

“When employers take retaliatory actions as the defendants did here, we will pursue strong and appropriate remedies, including through legal action if needed.”

The safety and health inspection was conducted by OSHA’s Hartford Area Office, and the whistleblower investigation by OSHA’s Boston regional office.

The case is being litigated by Attorney Nathan C. Henderson of the Labor Department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston.