NEW YORK – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has denied a Staten Island health provider’s attempt to prevent the U.S. Department of Labor from pursuing damages for a COVID-19 whistleblower whose private state whistleblower claim was dismissed.
In June 2021, the department filed suit against Community Health Center of Richmond Inc. and its CEO, Henry Thompson, alleging that they violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act when they suspended and later terminated an employee who reported their concerns about the potential for COVID-19 exposure at an in-person staff meeting. The OSH Act protects workers who report a hazardous work condition from retaliation.
In a motion filed in October 2021, the employer sought to prevent the department from seeking individual damages for the whistleblower arguing that the dismissal of the former employee’s prior state whistleblower claim prevents the department from obtaining monetary relief for the aggrieved worker. On Sept. 28, 2022, a federal court in Brooklyn rejected the employer’s argument, underscoring the department’s exclusive authority to seek damages for individual whistleblowers under the OSH Act. The court recognized when the department brings such actions, it does so to vindicate broader public rights and reaffirmed the central importance of strong whistleblower protection provisions and enforcement.
“This is a significant decision reaffirming the U.S. Department of Labor’s independent authority to pursue legal actions and relief for employees in the name of the public interest,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey Rogoff in New York. “The Office of the Solicitor of Labor will continue to aggressively bring cases seeking to vindicate the rights of whistleblowers, who are essential to the proper functioning of laws protecting the health and safety, wages, and wellbeing of the American workforce.”
Read the order recognizing the Secretary’s independent interest in enforcing the OSH Act’s whistleblower provisions.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Act guarantees workers the right to raise safety and health concerns to their employers without fear of retaliation,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson in New York. “Community Health Center of Richmond Inc.’s inexcusable actions have a chilling effect on other employees who wish to come forward with concerns about workplace hazards.”
OSHA’s Division of Whistleblower Protection Programs in New York conducted the investigation. Senior Trial Attorney David J. Rutenberg of the Regional Office of the Solicitor in New York is litigating the case.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 24 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, antitrust, and anti-money laundering laws and for engaging in other related protected activities. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.