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Thu March 21 2019

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US contractor in trouble after targeting whistleblower

4 Mar The US Department of Labor (DoL) is suing a Massachusetts-based contractor for facilitating the arrest on immigration charges of an employee who was injured on site.

A lawsuit has been filed against Boston -based contractor Tara Construction Inc and its chief executive officer, Pedro Pirez, alleging that they retaliated against an injured employee by facilitating his arrest.

“Employees must be able to report injuries and unsafe workplaces without fear that their employers will retaliate,” said OSHA regional administrator Galen Blanton. “OSHA enforces the law to protect all employees and level the playing field for law-abiding employers.”

The complaint states the employee sustained a serious injury when he fell from a ladder on March 29, 2017. He reported his injury to the defendants. The DoL’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) made an inquiry into the employer after finding out about the employee’s fall.

Reporting an injury to an employer and causing an OSHA proceeding to be instituted are protected activities under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSH Act), which prohibits retaliation against employees because they engage in such activities.

The DoL alleges that shortly after the employee engaged in these protected activities, the defendants initiated a law enforcement investigation and facilitated the employee’s detainment by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

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Pirez arranged for the employee to meet him at the Tara Construction office and the employee was arrested immediately after leaving the building. Pirez testified to OSHA that he had no idea how law enforcement knew where the employee would be when he was detained. However, a law enforcement account indicates that Pirez told an officer present at the arrest when the employee would be at Tara Construction’s office. Pirez further advised the officer that he had no objection to the employee’s arrest there. According to the DoL, this account is supported by text messages and records of approximately 14 telephone calls between defendant Pirez and law enforcement in the days surrounding the arrest.

An investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program concluded that the defendants’ actions constituted retaliation against the employee for protected activity under the OSH Act and would dissuade a reasonable worker from reporting an injury.

“The OSH Act prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights, regardless of the employees’ immigration status,” said regional solicitor of labor Maia Fisher. “This case demonstrates that through legal action the Department promotes safe and healthful workplaces free from unlawful retaliation.”

The Department’s suit asks the court to order the defendants to comply with the OSH Act’s anti-retaliation provisions, and pay the employee back wages, interest and compensatory and punitive damages. It also seeks an order requiring that Tara Construction provide a neutral letter of reference, expunge from its files any information regarding the adverse action against the employee in this case, and notify employees of their whistleblower rights under the OSH Act.


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