In December 2017, a jury awarded the former employee of an asbestos abatement and demolition business with a $174,000 settlement after he was retaliated against for reporting improper asbestos removal. California workers will want to know the details of this case so as to better understand what constitutes retaliation and wrongful termination.
According to the complaint, the employee was fired the day after he voiced concerns about incorrect asbestos removal at a high school in which the company was working. For proof, the man went to the work site after closing to take photographs of the asbestos and removed a bag containing the minerals. A few weeks after the whistleblower’s termination, his former employer filed a defamation suit against him.
OSHA brought a countersuit on his behalf, claiming that the employer’s actions had violated Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which forbids retaliatory actions against anyone who files a complaint under or related to the Act. Though the court did not establish whether the defamation suit, which the company later agreed to dismiss, was retaliatory, its summary judgment was that the termination was an adverse action motivated by an unlawful purpose. The whistleblower was awarded $103,000 in back wages, $50,000 in punitive damages and $20,000 in compensatory damages.
Since almost 4,400 workers in the U.S. are killed each year because of unsafe work conditions, this ruling can be considered a major victory for all workers. However, retaliation is still all too common. When someone believes he or she was wrongfully terminated for whistleblowing, demanding fair pay or some other legal action, a lawyer can evaluate the claim and determine whether the employer violated any federal and state anti-discrimination laws, labor laws or employment contracts. An attorney can then take the case to court in the effort to achieve a fair settlement.