OSHA Dings Tire Mart $341K in Worker Death

Mounting a tire proved fatal for this worker at a Mississippi facility. Let’s hope other employers get the message not to let this happen at theirs.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Southern Tire Mart LLC – based in Columbia, Mississippi – for failing to protect employees from serious safety hazards after a worker suffered fatal injuries while attempting to mount a monster truck tire rim at the company’s retreading facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The company faces $341,195 in fines.

OSHA inspectors determined the company exposed employees to struck-by, tire explosion, fire, and smoke hazards, and failed to provide a restraining device or barrier, and implement lockout/tagout procedures, as required. OSHA cited Southern Tire Mart – based in Columbia, Mississippi – for 17 violations, two of which are covered under OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Amputations.

“Tragedies like this can be prevented if an employer had followed required procedures for servicing and repairing trucks,” said OSHA Area Director Timothy Minor, in Fort Worth, Texas. “Employers must ensure that workers are trained, and can demonstrate and maintain the ability to service rim wheels safely.”

OSHA offers compliance assistance resources on servicing multi-piece and single-piece rim wheels.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Heartless: Employer Unlawfully Fired Employee Following Surgery, EEOC Alleges in ADA Lawsuit

Had this employer shown a little more heart, maybe it wouldn’t find itself in court opposite the federal government fending off a disability discrimination lawsuit.

A company operating in Duluth, Minn., violated civil rights law when it fired an employee because of his perceived disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in Minnesota on Wednesday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the employee worked for Lake States Lumber from August 2008 to February 2016. Lake States Lumber, based in Duluth, is owned by BlueLinx Corp., which is headquartered in Marietta, Ga. The company is a manufacturer and wholesale distributor of lumber and wood products.

The employee, who has a heart condition, went on leave to have heart surgery. He was released by his doctors to return to work with no restrictions. However, when he returned to work, managers placed restrictions on his ability to work and assigned him to a different job. Nine days later, he was fired, the EEOC said.

This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it unlawful to discriminate against or terminate an employee because he or she has a disability, a record of a disability or is regarded as disabled. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. BlueLinx Corp., d/b/a Lake States Lumber, Inc., Civil Action No. 0:19-cv-01549) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.

“Restricting an employee’s ability to work and then firing him because the company regards him as disabled violates the ADA,” said Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District. “This type of discrimination deprives people of employment opportunities because of myths and stereo­types about disability, and that’s neither lawful nor acceptable.”

Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said, “An employer cannot fire an employee simply because of a physical impairment that does not affect his ability to perform the job. The EEOC will continue to enforce the ADA and prosecute such violations of the law.”

The EEOC’s legal team in its Minneapolis Area Office will conduct the litigation under the management of the agency’s Chicago District Office. That office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and litigation in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Striking Gold: EEOC Hits It Big in Settlement With Alaskan Mining Co. In Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

The EEOC took this Alaska-based mining company to the cleaners, recovering a high six-figure amount to settle allegations that it was unfairly denied a promotion to a female employee.

Alaska-based Northern Star (Pogo) LLC, formerly known as Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, LLC, will pay $690,000 and make substantial changes to settle a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced Thursday.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Hanna Hurst, one of a few women underground miners to work at Pogo under former Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo ownership, was denied promotions while male colleagues with less seniority or training were promoted. When Hurst complained of the unfair treatment, Pogo retaliated against her by imposing additional training requirements, while allowing male miners to advance without meeting the same requirements.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits denying promotions based on sex. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska [Case No. 4:18-cv-00034-JWS] after an investigation by EEOC Investigator Bryne Moore and after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.  Hurst was independently represented by the non-profit Equal Rights Advocates.

The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $690,000 to Hurst in lost wages and compensatory damages. The decree also requires Pogo to hire an independent expert to evaluate, develop and implement policies, procedures, and trainings to ensure equal employment and enhance accountability and oversight of managers, supervisors and trainers. With that outside expert’s help, the mining company will provide anti-discrimination training to all leadership and employees; make available its EEO policy to all employees and applicants; report to the EEOC all complaints of sex or gender discrimination or retaliation it receives from its employees for the next three years; and post a notice for employees about the consent decree and employees’ rights under federal law.

“Speaking out against sex discrimination at work is hard, but I am really glad I did,” said Hurst. “It’s been a long time coming, but I am hopeful this settlement will help to make the mine a fair workplace for everyone and more open to women. I am thankful to the EEOC and my attorneys at Equal Rights Advocates for standing by me and seeing this through.”

EEOC Senior Trial Attorney May Che said, “Hanna Hurst worked hard to prove her abilities in this challenging industry.  She did everything required of her and more.  Yet, she was repeatedly passed over for promotion while she watched her male colleagues with less training and seniority rise through the ranks.”  Che added, “During Hanna’s employment, Pogo had a discretionary promotion policy applied by male supervisors, who repeatedly showed overt hostility and sexist attitudes toward women at the mine, which ensured that no woman made it to the top-level mining positions.”

“Gender bias continues to be a problem in today’s workplace, certainly no less in those industries traditionally dominated by men.” said EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko. “We commend Northern Star as the new successor company for demonstrating its commitment to see such discrimination doesn’t continue under its leadership.”

According to its website, https://www.nsrltd.com/our-assets/pogo/, Pogo is an underground gold mine operation in remote Alaska and currently employs over 320 employees.  Pogo is owned and operated by Northern Star (Alaska) LLC following the acquisition of Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, LLC on September 28, 2018.

Home Improvement Company, Owner Socked With $1.7M Fine for Ignoring Fall Protections

A fine, even a million dollar one, is too lenient for this company which willfully failed to train its workers on the hazards of falling, resulting in an employee’s death.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Shawn D. Purvis, owner of Purvis Home Improvement Co. Inc. for egregious willful, repeat, and serious workplace safety violations. Purvis – a Saco, Maine, roofing contractor – faces a total of $1,792,726 in penalties. The enforcement action follows the death of an employee in Portland, Maine, on December 13, 2018.

OSHA inspectors found that Purvis knowingly failed to ensure the use of fall protection by his employees at the Portland worksite, and at a separate worksite in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Due to Purvis’ knowledge of the hazard and required safeguards, along with an extensive history of violations, OSHA cited him for 13 egregious willful violations – one for each exposed employee per job site – for failing to ensure the use of fall protection. Each egregious citation carries the maximum allowable penalty of $132,598. OSHA also cited Purvis for failing to provide fall protection training to his employees, and for exposing them to electrocution and eye hazards. OSHA has cited the owner for seven violations of fall protection requirements since September 2006.

“Effective fall protection can prevent tragedies like this when an employer ensures the proper use of legally required lifesaving protection,” said OSHA Area Director David McGuan, in Augusta, Maine. “An ongoing refusal to follow the law exposes other employees to potentially fatal or disabling injuries. Employers cannot evade their responsibility to ensure a safe and healthful worksite.”

View the Portland and Old Orchard Beach citations.

On April 5, 2019, a Portland grand jury indicted Purvis for manslaughter and workplace manslaughter, charging that his repeated violations of OSHA’s fall protection standards caused his employee’s death.

OSHA offers compliance assistance resources on fall hazards on the OSHA Fall Protection webpage at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/fallprotection/.

Purvis has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance.  For more information, visit https://www.osha.gov.

Employers can find compliance assistance resources related to OSHA at https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/cas.html.

Employer Pays $75K To Settle ADA Suit Over Ultimatum that Employee Resign After Leave

This employer decided it was better to fold than fight federal authorities over its dismissal of an employee who had been on medical leave for depression.

L-3 Communications, a large defense contractor with facilities in Texas, will pay $75,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the engineer was hired by L-3 Communications in 2008 and was a successful employee for six years. He suffered two depressive episodes at work in late 2014 and went on medical leave. He was released to return to work by his physician after receiving treatment, but L-3 required the employee to submit to a fitness-for-duty exam before deciding whether he could return to his position. The psychologist who conducted the fitness-for-duty exam concluded that the employee could return to work, but instead L-3 ended his employment by giving him the option to resign or be fired.

The EEOC charged in its suit that L-3 violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by forcing the engineer, a qualified individual with a disability, to resign in lieu of termination. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, LP d/b/a L-3 Communications Mission Integration, Civil Action No.3:17-cv-00538-N) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The consent decree settling the suit, signed on June 10, 2019 by U.S. District Court Judge David Godbey, calls for L3 to provide monetary relief to the former engineer, as well as to conduct training on the ADA for employees in the department where he was working at the time of his forced resignation.

“This case demonstrates the danger of allowing myths, fears, and stereotypes to pervade decisions about employees with disabilities,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Meaghan Kuelbs. “The EEOC believes that the non-monetary relief, including the training specific to this former employee’s department, will help prevent this from happening again at L-3.”

Robert Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, added, “L3’s decision ran afoul of federal law when the company chose to ignore the medical assessments of both the employee’s doctor and a contracted fitness-for-duty examiner that he could return to work. The EEOC is ready to stand up to defend employees against disability discrimination.”

N.M. Jail Agency Pays Big in Age Bias Lawsuit

Settling allegations of age discrimination and retaliation came at a big price for this agency in the Land of Enchantment.

The State of New Mexico, Corrections Department (NMCD), the state agency that operates correctional facilities throughout New Mexico, will pay $700,000 and furnish other relief to settle an age discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, NMCD discriminated against several employees by denying them promotions and job assignments as well as in other terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of their ages, over 40. The EEOC’s lawsuit further charged that NMCD retaliated against employees because they opposed age discrimination, filed discrimination charges, or participated in investi­gations of discrimination complaints.

Age discrimination against persons who are 40 years old or older violates the Age Discrim­ination in Employment Act (ADEA). Retaliation against individuals because they file internal com­plaints, file EEOC discrimination charges, or participate in EEO investigations or proceedings also violate the ADEA’s provisions that prohibit retaliation.

The EEOC filed suit, EEOC v. State of New Mexico, Department of Corrections, 1:15-CV-00879-KK/LF (D. NM), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its concili­ation process.

The settlement requires NMCD to ensure that workplace policies are in place to prohibit age discrimination and retaliation and to provide training to all its employees about NMCD’s anti-discrim­ination policies. The settlement allows charging parties or aggrieved individuals to request review of hiring authority decisions during the agreement’s two-year term.

The agreement also requires NMCD to conduct periodic internal analyses of selection decisions to determine whether applicants 40 and over are being selected proportionally to their representation in the applicant pool, and to post a notice that advises employees of NMCD’s policies and the ADEA’s prohibitions on age discrimination and retaliation. Finally, the settlement also provides $700,000 in monetary relief to past and current NMCD employees the EEOC has identified as experiencing age discrimination and/or retaliation while working for NMCD.

“Employers who make employment decisions based on stereotypical notions of an older worker’s ability to work risk losing good employees who bring valuable experience and skill to their jobs,” said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office. “The EEOC will vigorously enforce the laws prohibiting age discrimination and retaliation against workers who have the courage to complain about it.”

EEOC’s Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, “We are pleased that this lawsuit was resolved with significant monetary relief for older workers in New Mexico.”

EEOC Alleges Retaliation by Coal Companies

Firing an employee because he opposes discrimination or testifies against an employer is just as much a violation of federal civil rights law as the alleged underlying offense.

Affiliated companies Southern Coal Corporation, Kentucky Coal Transport, LLC, and Tams Management, Inc., together with contracted hauling company Legacy Land Management, Inc., violated federal law against retaliation in discrimination cases, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed June 5.  The EEOC said the companies retaliated against a truck driver who opposed his former employer’s unlawful discrim­ination and participated in an EEOC lawsuit against another coal company.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Michael Atkins worked as a coal truck driver at a mine in Tams, W.V. When Atkins’s supervisor learned that he was testifying against another coal company, the supervisor took a series of retaliatory actions against him, including telling Atkins he should never testify against a coal company, giving him the ultimatum of transferring to a remote worksite or to leave his job altogether. The retaliation resulted in the termination of Atkins’s employment.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on national origin, race, color, sex or religion and retaliation for opposing such unlawful practices or for participating in a Title VII investigation, lawsuit or other proceeding. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Legacy Land Management, Inc., Tams Management, Inc., Kentucky Coal Transport, LLC, and Southern Coal Corporation, Case No. 5:19-cv-00429) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settle­ment through its administrative conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking permanent injunctive relief prohibiting Legacy Land and the affiliated Southern Coal companies from retaliating against emp­loyees for opposing unlawful employment practices under Title VII or participating in a Title VII investigation or proceeding, lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief.

“Whether an employee opposes discrimination or participates in a Title VII proceeding against his current employer or against an employer from his past, he is protected from reprisal,” said EEOC District Director Jamie R. Williamson of the agency’s Philadelphia District. “A company’s industry affiliation with another company is no excuse for unlawful retaliation.”

Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said, “Employers must remember that it is unlawful to punish an employee for supporting another employee’s allegations of discrimination.”

The EEOC Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. The legal staff of the Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC also prosecutes discrim­ination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.

Preserving access to the legal system by targeting retaliatory practices that effectively dissuade others in the workplace from exercising their rights under anti-discrimination laws is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).