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A whistleblower lawsuit has been filed against a construction company in Florida accused of illegally firing an employee who reported workplace violence causing personal injury.

The U.S. Department of Labor filed the lawsuit in federal court against Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC and owner Duane Thomas for violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The suit was triggered by complaints from a worker at the company’s custom marine dock installation services site on Marco Island.

OSHA’s whistleblower laws protect employees who complain of illegal or dangerous workplace conditions that lead to fracture injuries, neck injuries, soft tissue injuries, brain injuries and other serious injuries.

According to an OSHA news release, the employee alleged that Thomas committed workplace violence and created hostile working conditions on numerous occasions between Dec. 9, 2009 and Feb. 25, 2011.

Thomas supposedly behaved abusively, made inappropriate sexual comments and advances, screamed, yelled, made physically threatening gestures, and withheld the employee’s paycheck. The employee, who worked directly for Thomas, also reported to him that he was creating conditions that were hostile.

On Feb. 25, 2011, OSHA received a timely whistleblower complaint filed by the employee, which alleged discrimination by Thomas for having narrated the conditions to him. Thomas received notice of the filed complaint on March 18, 2011, had computer passwords changed on March 23, 2011,in order to deny the employee remote access to files, and then terminated the employee. OSHA’s consequent investigation found merit to the employee’s complaint.

According to Teresa Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Atlanta, employees have the right to raise concerns on workplace violence without having a fear of retaliation.

The suit seeks a variety of relief, including:

  • Back wages
  • Interest
  • Compensatory damages
  • Punitive damages
  • Front pay in lieu of reinstatement
  • Clearing the employee’s personnel records of all references to the matters at issue in the case.

Under OSHA, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. There are 22 separate whistleblower statutes in the Act. They protect employees who complain of illegal workplace practices in a range of industries and occupations, including construction companies, airlines, nuclear power plants, gas and oil pipelines, environmental companies, railroads, public transportation facilities, maritime industries, consumer product manufacturers, health care agencies, securities firms, food safety businesses and consumer finance companies.

Employees who believe their employers have retaliated against them for reporting improper conduct can opt to file a complaint with the secretary of labor.

In 2012, OSHA completed a total of 2,769 whistleblower cases in 2012—a significant increase from the 1,948 completions in 2011.