OSHA Fines Energy Company $132K for Safety Violations Following Explosion at Philly Refinery

There are some rules of the road when workers handle hazardous chemicals–and this refinery in Philadelphia didn’t follow them, federal safety regulators alleged.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Philadelphia Energy Solutions for serious violations of safety and health hazards related to process safety management (PSM) following a fire and subsequent explosions at the company’s Girard Point Refinery Complex in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in June 2019. The company faces $132,600 in penalties.

PSM encompasses requirements and procedures employers must follow to address hazards associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of hazardous chemicals. In this case, the chemicals were hydrofluoric acid and flammable hydrocarbons. OSHA’s inspection found deficiencies in the refinery’s PSM program, including failing to establish or implement written procedures, insufficient hazard analysis and inadequate inspection of process equipment for highly hazardous chemicals used in the process.

“When employers fail to evaluate and address potential hazardous conditions associated with chemical processes, catastrophic events such as this can occur,” said OSHA Philadelphia Area Director Theresa Downs. “OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard requires that employers conduct regular inspections to ensure process equipment meets industry standards.”

OSHA’s Process Safety Management webpage provides resources on recognizing, evaluating and controlling process hazards.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations 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.

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 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 http://www.osha.gov.

On Target: National Retailer Fined $227K by OSHA for Allowing Blocking of Emergency Exits

Here’s a possible tragedy averted hopefully by strong sanctions ahead of time.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Target Corp. for emergency exit access hazards at stores in Danvers and Framingham, Massachusetts. The national retailer faces a total of $227,304 in penalties.

OSHA inspectors found fire exit routes in backroom storage areas blocked by objects, such as packing boxes, products, rolling carts, metal bars, portable ladders, and a powered industrial truck. Since 2015, OSHA has cited Target Corp. for similar hazards at 11 stores in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

“OSHA has cited Target Corp. several times for exposing workers to hazards that restrict their ability to quickly exit a store in an emergency,” said OSHA Andover Area Director Anthony Covello. “Employers are required to keep exit routes free and unobstructed.”

Additional information about OSHA requirements for keeping exits clear is available in the agency’s Emergency Exit Routes fact sheet. OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs includes information on how to identify and assess hazards in the workplace.

Target Corp. has 15 business days from receipt of the Danvers and Framinghamcitations 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.

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 http://www.osha.gov.

$195K Settlement on EEOC Charge Alleging Hospital Violated ADA Leave Requirements

When having a third-party vendor administer your leave policies, make you everyone is on the same page regarding legal requirements. Otherwise, the outcome could be costly for you.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital (MGSH) announced Wednesday the successful conciliation and settlement of a charge filed with the agency under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC reached a voluntary resolution with the employer through the agency’s conciliation process following its investi­gation findings. MGSH did not admit to any wrongdoing or fault in violation of the statute.

In addition to monetary and non-monetary relief, MGSH agreed to provide training to employees concerning the ADA and leave policies administered by its third-party vendors, post notices to all employees, and consent to a two-year moni­toring period. The EEOC acknowledges the employer’s coop­eration with the EEOC in its investi­gation of the matter. MGSH agreed to affirm its commitment to compliance with the ADA and equal employment opportunity laws.

The ADA prohibits workplace discrimination based on disability and requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation, including leave, to individuals with disabilities, unless it would pose an undue hardship.

“MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital has shown its commitment to complying with the ADA by resolving this matter voluntary with the EEOC,” said Baltimore Field Office Director Rosemarie Rhodes. “This agreement ensures that the hospital’s leave policies, including those administered by third-party vendors, will comply with the ADA.”

Philadelphia District Director Jamie R. Williamson added, “We commend MedStar Good Samaritan for resolving this issue expeditiously once it was brought to their attention. We encourage all employers to be proactive and review their policies and procedures so employees who need a reasonable accommodation will receive what they are entitled to under federal law.”

The EEOC’s Baltimore Field Office is one of four offices in the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.

Fla. Contractor Hit With $1M+ Fine in Fall Case

Let’s hope this big fine gets the message to employers that they need to do a better job to protect their employees from fall hazards.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Florida Roofing Experts Inc. – a Jacksonville, Florida, roofing contractor owned by Travis Slaughter – for failing to protect workers from falls at two work sites in Fleming Island and one in Middleburg, Florida. Florida Roofing Experts Inc. faces penalties totaling $1,007,717.

OSHA initiated the inspections on July 11 and 12, 2019, after receiving complaints on July 9, 2019 of employees performing residential re-roofing activities without fall protection. Given the employer’s extensive history of violations, pursuant to OSHA’s egregious citation policy, the agency issued eight willful citations for failing to protect employees from fall hazards.

“This employer has an extensive OSHA history with willful, serious, and repeat violations that has demonstrated an egregious disregard for the safety of their workers,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer, in Atlanta, Georgia. “The employer continues to allow employees to work without fall protection, and has made no reasonable effort to eliminate the risk.”

“OSHA has extensive resources to help employers and workers understand how to comply with fall protection standards,” stated Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “Fall protection and training requirements that address falls continue to be among the top 10 cited OSHA standards. Fatalities and injuries from falls are preventable.”

Given these investigations and citations, OSHA has placed Florida Roofing Experts in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program due to high-gravity willful, egregious violations related to fall hazards.

OSHA has investigated Florida Roofing Experts and its predecessor, Great White Construction, 19 times within the last seven years, resulting in 42 citations related to improper fall protection, ladder use, and eye protection.

The company 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.

EEOC Coaxes $350K Settlement From Calif. Company That Shunned Certain Ethnic Groups

Thankfully, sales reps at the West Coast energy company won’t be pressured anymore to avoid entire an entire ethnic customer base.

San Leandro-based solar and home energy company Fidelity Home Energy, Inc., and its successor NorCal Home Systems, Inc., will pay $350,000 to a former employee and hire a consultant to resolve a national origin discrimination lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, within her first week as a telemarketing supervisor, the former employee learned that all potential customers perceived to be Middle Eastern or Indian were to be rejected for sales appointments for home energy systems. EEOC charged that the former employee, who is of Afghan descent, observed supervisors flagging these individuals’ records in an internal database and placing them on the “do not call” list. The employee was forced to turn away any such potential customers almost daily and to direct her subordinates to do the same.

Ultimately, as EEOC charged, the distress of having to discriminate against would-be customers, particularly those of her own national origin, compelled the employee to quit after only a few weeks. In her resignation, she explained, “It makes me sick to know that we refuse to service a particular ethnicity of people. We literally go out of our way to single them out.”

The alleged conduct created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on national origin. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California [Case No. 3:19-cv-01231] after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.  The lawsuit was litigated by EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Ami Sanghvi and Trial Attorney James H. Baker.

Under the three-year consent decree, Fidelity and NorCal will provide $350,000 in damages to the employee and hire an EEO consultant to help revise NorCal’s EEO policies and procedures, investigate employee complaints of discrimination, and ensure that managers, supervisors and employees are trained on their EEO rights and obligations. NorCal must also revise its databases to remove any ability to screen entries by race, ethnicity or national origin, and must post a notice to employees about the consent decree.

“Combatting all forms of workplace harassment remains a top priority of the EEOC’s 2017-2021 Strategic Enforcement Plan. This past year, over 7,000 charges alleging national origin-based harassment were filed with the agency,” said EEOC San Francisco District Director William Tamayo. “We commend NorCal for working to ensure that discriminatory practices do not continue.”

Trial Attorney James H. Baker stated, “The former employee was faced with an unacceptable choice: continue to reject customers based on national origin or quit her job.  He added, “Discriminatory conduct directed at third-parties, including co-workers or customers, can result in a hostile work environment claim for protected employees under Title VII.”

Fidelity Home Energy, Inc. was a family-owned and operated business providing homeowners with energy-efficient products and in-home installation services. Last year, Fidelity’s CEO dissolved Fidelity, and continued the services it provided as NorCal Home Systems, Inc

Back Pay, Sterner Protections Included in EEOC Settlement for a Fired Pregnant Store Manager

What pregnancy complications could keep a junior assistant manager from doing her job at a specialty clothing store? That’s a question this employer would have had trouble answering at trial.

Rainbow USA, Inc. (Rainbow), a specialty apparel chain doing business in the Chalmette, Louisiana area, agreed to pay $11,000 in back pay to settle a federal pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced last Friday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a junior assistant manager in her first trimester of pregnancy, was indefinitely suspended and two days later was fired after the company learned of her pregnancy-related restrictions.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA). The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No.  2:18-cv-09007) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.

In addition to backpay, the consent decree provides non-monetary relief, including an injunction prohibiting any future discrimination. Rainbow also agreed to maintain an effective anti-discrimination policy to protect all employees from any form of discrimination and requires that Rainbow provide training on its policy and Title VII’s prohibitions, particularly pregnancy discrimination. Rainbow also will report to the EEOC on its compliance with the consent decree and post a notice for the employees and/or applicants to be aware of their rights.

“No one should have to decide between having a family and having a job, ” said Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for EEOC’s New Orleans and Houston offices. “The non-monetary provisions of the decree are intended to protect pregnant employees, especially those who have medical conditions related to their pregnancy.”

EEOC Gets $19K for Fired Framer, Employer’s Pledge on ADA Accommodation, in Settlement

Not entirely gone are the days when employers view mental illness as a stigma–at a cost to themselves and their employees.

Heritage Charity Auction & Awards, Inc., a manufacturer and seller of display cases for memorabilia and auction company located in Cumming, Ga., will pay $19,000 and provide other significant relief to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commis­sion (EEOC), the federal agency announced Jan. 9.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Heritage unlawfully discriminated against Rachel Garcia, a custom framer, when it fired her after she disclosed that she has mental disabilities and advised her supervisor and one of Heritage’s owners that she may need an accommodation.

Garcia’s mental disabilities did not affect her ability to perform her job, but she advised her supervisor and an owner that she may need an accommodation, the EEOC said. Heritage made her leave work immediately and told her it needed documentation from a counselor or a doctor describing her mental health issues. However, when Garcia attempted to satisfy this request, the company refused to engage in the interactive process required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Garcia and, instead, it filled Garcia’s position and discharged her.

Such alleged conduct violates the ADA, which prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on an individual’s disability. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Heritage Charity Auction & Awards, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:20-cv-00004-RWS-JCF) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Gainesville Division. Heritage was willing to negotiate a resolution very early in the litigation and agreed to pay Garcia $19,000 to compensate her. In addition to providing monetary relief, Heritage entered into a two-year consent decree, which requires it to, among other things, adopt and implement a written policy on the ADA and a procedure for requesting reasonable accommodations under the ADA. The decree further requires the company to conduct training on disability discrimination for its employees, post EEO notices, and provide periodic reports to the EEOC.

“The EEOC is committed to ending disability discrimination in Georgia and across the country,” said Antonette Sewell, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office. “The ADA was passed, in part, to combat prejudices of employers who make assumptions about their employees’ ability to work. The EEOC is pleased that Heritage agreed to resolve this lawsuit by compensating Ms. Garcia and making the changes necessary to ensure other employees with disabilities can request needed accommo­dations.”

Darrell E. Graham, district director of the Atlanta office, said, “An employer cannot send an employee home based solely on its prejudice and fears when an employee discloses a mental health issue. Heritage made the prudent decision to avoid protracted litigation and instead move forward with productive steps to ensure future compliance with the ADA.”

The EEOC’s Atlanta District Office oversees Georgia and parts of South Carolina.