$165,000 Judgment in OSHA Whistleblower Discharge Lawsuit

Monday, December 7, 2015

A receptionist fired illegally at a Bronx hair salon in June 2012 for telling her colleagues about the hazards of a formaldehyde-containing straightener the salon used will be compensated for unlawful retaliation, and her former employer will take corrective action, according to a federal consent judgment obtained by the U.S. Department of Labor. 

The judgment orders the defendants to pay the former employee $65,000 in lost wages and $100,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. It also requires Salon Zoe to expunge the employee's personnel records of all references to this matter and her termination and, upon request, provide a written, neutral job reference.

A whistleblower investigation by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found Salon Zoe and its owner, Kristina Veljovic, illegally discharged the receptionist days after she gave her colleagues an OSHA fact sheet about formaldehyde hazards. The department filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in February 2015 after attempts to settle the matter voluntarily did not succeed. 

To prevent future violations, the judgment prohibits the defendants from doing the following: 

  • Firing or discriminating against employees who file OSHA complaints 
  • Blacklisting, demoting, threatening, suspending, harassing or intimidating employees who report workplace injuries and illnesses 
  • Advising employees against exercising their whistleblower rights, including contacting, speaking with, or cooperating with OSHA investigators

Additionally, the defendants must inform employees of their whistleblower rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. These measures will include permanently posting an OSHA poster in a prominent spot in the workplace, distributing an OSHA whistleblower fact sheet to current employees and new hires and certifying that employees have received this information. 

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.  Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. 

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