If an employee in California reports dangerous or illegal practices by an employer, that employee should be protected from retaliation under federal laws that protect whistleblowers. A man who made a report when he was concerned about his employer's disposal of asbestos at a high school in New York was fired, and the company filed a defamation lawsuit against him. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration filed a lawsuit on the man's behalf, and he was awarded around $174,000 by a jury in damages.
The man went onto the work site after hours to take photos. He also took away a bag of asbestos that had been improperly removed. OSHA said the company's actions were retaliatory and were not permitted according to Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The court did not rule about whether filing the lawsuit was defamation. However, defamatory lawsuits were addressed in the motion for summary judgment. This document cited several cases in which these types of lawsuits were considered adverse actions. The man was awarded $50,000 in punitive damages, $20,000 in compensatory damages and $103,000 in back wages. Unsafe workplaces kill more than 4,000 workers annually, and OSHA's actions can be important in keeping employees from harm.
People who believe they have faced wrongful termination or been retaliated against in some other way, whether because of whistleblowing or reporting harassment or discrimination, might want to talk to an attorney. Other forms of retaliation could include a demotion, a refusal of a promotion or a suspension. It might even take the form of additional harassment. A person who is in this situation may want to document the incidents.