TACOMA, WA – A federal court in Tacoma has ruled that the U.S. Postal Service retaliated against an employee who reported an injury to supervisors and applied for workers’ compensation benefits in 2019 while on probation as a new postal employee.
The court’s action follows an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration that found the USPS terminated the worker in retaliation for filing an injury report. The agency also determined the USPS stopped conducting performance evaluations and then fired the worker before the end of their new hire probation. The termination violated the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, which protects an employee’s right to report injury without fear of reprisal.
In March 2022, the department’s Office of the Solicitor filed a lawsuit against the USPS seeking lost wages, reinstatement and the employee’s records expunged. In addition, the department sought a court order requiring the USPS to train supervisors on federal whistleblower protections and to post a notice at its Tacoma facilities detailing employees’ rights and protections under the OSH Act.
On May 1, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a summary judgment finding that the USPS did retaliate against the employee. The court directed the USPS to remove any negative reference to the employee’s protected activity and termination from their personnel record and to provide neutral employment references only.
The court is scheduled to begin considering issues still undecided on June 26, 2023, including reinstatement and the total in back wages and other monetary damages owed by the USPS to the employee.
“The court’s finding highlights the U.S. Postal Service’s conduct in this case, which resembles actions the USPS has taken against probationary employees in other cases we’re litigating against it,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco. “The summary judgment we have obtained is an important step toward fully protecting the rights of an employee terminated wrongfully for reporting a workplace injury and signals to other postal workers that they should not fear retaliation when exercising their rights.”
The court also issued a permanent injunction ordering USPS facilities in Tacoma to give probationary employees who report work-related injuries an equal opportunity to complete probation. This opportunity must include routine performance evaluations based on their medical restrictions and feedback, and/or extended probationary periods if needed.
The injunction also requires the USPS in Tacoma to train all officers, supervisors and employees on federal anti-retaliation regulations, and to notify probationary employees of their rights to report work-related injuries and related medical restrictions without fear of retaliation.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.
Docket Number: 3:22-cv-05180-RJB