AUSTIN, TX – When an employee of a luxury auto dealership in Austin learned a co-worker had tested positive for COVID-19 in December 2020, they alerted the company’s management and requested they notify other employees immediately of their exposure risk.
After the dealership failed to act, the employee emailed all company employees about the potential hazards. Less than an hour later, the car dealer terminated the employee.
On March 20, 2023, the U.S. Department of Labor obtained a consent judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, that requires Hi Tech Imports LLC – operating as Porsche Austin – to pay the employee $15,000 in compensatory damages. The court also forbade the dealership from discriminating against their employees when they exercise their federally protected rights to raise workplace safety concerns.
The action follows a lawsuit filed by the department in October 2021, and a federal whistleblower investigation by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency found the dealership illegally retaliated against the employee in December 2020, violating whistleblower protections of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
“Retaliating against employees who report workplace safety and health concerns is illegal,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “In this case, an employee raised legitimate concerns about a potential coronavirus hazard at the car dealership where they worked. Such good faith alerts others to possible risks and makes workplaces safer.”
In a related case, the department and the National Labor Relations Board negotiated an agreement on July 26, 2022, with Hi Tech Motorcars LLC, Hi Tech Imports LLC, Hi Tech Luxury Imports LLC, Hi Tech Partners LLC and the employee that required the company to pay them $116,231 in back wages and to reinstate them to their previous position.
“When employers retaliate against their workers for voicing safety and health concerns, the U.S. Department of Labor will work vigorously to protect workers’ rights,” explained Regional Solicitor of Labor John Rainwater in Dallas. “The department is dedicated to ensuring safe and healthful working conditions as required by federal law. No employee should fear their employer for reporting legitimate safety concerns.”
Based in Austin, Hi Tech Imports is a family operated automotive dealer group that sells and services vehicles made by luxury manufacturers, including Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, Maserati, Porsche and Rolls-Royce.
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, antitrust, and anti-money laundering laws and for engaging in other related protected activities.
Learn more about whistleblower protections.