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Whistleblower Law Blog

Topic: Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

OSHA Orders Alaska-Based Youth Treatment Provider to Reinstate Whistleblower Who Was Fired After Reporting Safety Concerns at the Facility

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In a press release issued last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that Anchorage, Alaska- based North Star Behavioral Health System has been ordered to reinstate and pay over $250,000 to an employee who was terminated in retaliation for reporting safety concerns regarding the facility’s water supply.

An investigation conducted by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program found that the company violated the whistleblower provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) when it terminated an employee after he reported concerns about safe drinking water and a lack of appropriate licensing by a North Star manager who held certain regulatory responsibilities regarding the facility’s drinking water system. Following the employee’s complaint to state agencies, North Star not only ordered him to refrain from future contact with regulatory agencies but terminated him for allegedly sabotaging the facility’s water supply, allegations which OSHA determined by to be unsubstantiated.

In addition to reinstating the whistleblower, OSHA ordered that North Star must pay him nearly $60,000 in back wages, $75,000 in emotional distress damages, $100,000 in punitive damages, $2,018 in compensatory damages, and approximately $35,600 in attorney fees. Finally, North Star must post OSHA’s whistleblower protection fact sheet at its Anchorage facility.

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice  representing employees who have been victims of retaliation.

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ARB Rules that Whistleblower’s Motive is Irrelevant

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The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) has affirmed an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision to award back pay and compensatory damages to a whistleblower for violations of the retaliation provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”).  In Collins v. Village of Lynchburg, Ohio, Michael Collins alleged that his former employer, the Village of Lynchburg Ohio retaliated against him for making a disclosure to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (“OEPA”) about an alleged violation of the SDWA.  In particular, Collins alleged that his employer was using an improper procedure to test Lynchburg’s water supply.

The employer asserted that Collins did not engage in protected conduct because his disclosure was motivated by personal animus against his supervisors.  The ARB expressly rejected this argument, concluding that “even if [an employee] were motivated by a retaliatory intent in making [a disclosure] to OEPA, a complainant’s motivation in making a safety complaint has no bearing on whether the complaint is protected.”   According to the ARB, an employee’s disclosure is protected so long as the complainant “reasonably believe[d] that a violation of the act occurred,” when he made his disclosure.  Finding that Collins satisfied his burden of proof and that his former employer failed to provide a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating Collins’s employment, the ARB affirmed the ALJ’s decision in favor of  Collins.  For more information on whistleblower protection laws and The Employment Law Group® law firm’s Whistleblower Practice, click here.

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DOL Decides in Favor of Federal Agency Whistleblower

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In Dixon v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior., the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) held that Earle Dixon, a federal employee of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) engaged in protected activity under the whistleblower provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) when he raised concerns about the contamination of a Nevada copper mine and told his supervisors that the intergovernmental effort to clean up the mine was non-compliant with CERCLA regulations. In affirming the ALJ’s decision, the ARB concluded that the BLM failed to prove that Dixon was terminated for poor performance or other reasons independent of his protected activity and was therefore liable for whistleblower retaliation.  The ARB also affirmed the ALJ’s decision awarding Dixon back pay and compensatory damages.

 

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