BOSTON – In early June 2022, an employee of a Vermont company that sells and services agricultural equipment observed their employer pumping wastewater from the facility’s service bays onto the ground bordering the Winooski River in Berlin. The employee reported their concerns about the potential harm to the river, first to supervisors and then to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Shortly after, Champlain Valley Equipment fired the employee and the worker filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
After its investigation, OSHA determined that the company’s actions violated the whistleblower provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and ordered Champlain Valley Equipment to reinstate the employee to their former position. The agency also ordered the company to pay the employee $45,015.72 in back wages, interest on the back wages, $50,000 in compensatory damages, $50,000 in punitive damages and the worker’s reasonable attorneys’ fees.
“The employee had a right to raise valid concerns about potential environmental harm to the Winooski River, an important water source,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in Boston. “Employers who retaliate illegally against employees who engage in federally protected activities will be held accountable.”
In addition to ordering payment of back wages, damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees, OSHA ordered the employer to do the following:
Remove any reference to how the employee exercised their rights under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act from their employment records.
Not retaliate or discriminate against the employee in any manner for instituting or causing to be instituted any proceeding under or related to the SDWA and the FWPCA.
Immediately post, in a conspicuous place, a notice to employees, signed by a responsible company official, informing them of their rights under the two environmental laws.
“Employees have the legally protected right to raise safety, health and environmental concerns without fear of retaliation, interference, termination or other prohibited actions by their employer. OSHA will rigorously investigate such complaints and secure appropriate remedies when necessary,” explained OSHA Assistant Regional Administrator for Whistleblower Protection Programs Kristen Rubino in Boston.
The company and the former employee may file objections to OSHA’s findings or request a hearing with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receiving the agency’s order.
Since 1970, Champlain Valley Equipment has provided and serviced farm, lawn and garden and light construction equipment throughout Vermont with locations in Berlin, Derby, Essex, Middlebury and St. Albans.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and more than 20 other statutes protecting employees who report 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, criminal antitrust and anti-money laundering laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
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