Jury Awards $650,000 in OSHA Retaliation Case
A jury in a Massachusetts federal court found that a contracting company retaliated against an employee who reported an on-the-job injury, awarding $650,000 in damages – $600,000 in punitive damages and $50,000 in compensatory damages. The case was initiated by the Department of Labor under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), which prohibits retaliation against employees who engage in protected activities.
In this case, OSHA alleged that the company, Tara Construction Inc., initiated a law enforcement investigation and facilitated an employee’s detainment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the employee reported an injury to the company. The employee sustained a serious injury when he fell from a ladder on March 29, 2017. After he reported his injury to the company, OSHA made an inquiry into the employer and began investigating the employee’s fall. OSHA alleges that the company CEO arranged for the employee to meet him at the company's office and the employee was arrested immediately after leaving the building. OSHA presented text messages and records of approximately 14 telephone calls between the CEO and law enforcement in the days surrounding the arrest.
Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for engaging in "protected activities" - exercising a variety of rights guaranteed under the OSH Act, such as filing a safety or health complaint with OSHA, raising a health and safety concern with their employers, participating in an OSHA inspection, or reporting a work-related injury or illness. Employers are prohibited from taking any type of unfavorable employment actions in response to a protected activity. Courts have found that unfavorable employment actions may include: firing or laying off; blacklisting; demoting; denying overtime or promotion; disciplining; denying benefits; failure to hire or rehire; intimidation; making threats; reassignment affecting prospects for promotion; and reducing pay or hours. If an employee or OSHA can show that any of these unfavorable employment actions were motivated by such protected activity, a court can require relief including reinstatement; payment of back pay with interest; compensation for expenses the employee may have incurred as a result of the retaliation with interest and for emotional distress; punitive damages; and non-monetary relief.