The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit 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.
The department’s complaint, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Feb. 27, 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 department’s Occupational Safety and 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 and Health Act (OSH Act), OSHA says, which prohibits retaliation against employees because they engage in such activities.
The department alleges that shortly after the employee engaged in protected activities, the defendants initiated a law enforcement investigation and facilitated the employee’s detainment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Pirez arranged for the employee to meet him at the Tara Construction office and the employee was arrested immediately after leaving the building.
Although defendant Pirez testified to OSHA that he had no idea how law enforcement knew where the employee would be when he was detained, 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.
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, OSHA says. 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.
“Employees must be able to report injuries and unsafe workplaces without fear that their employers will retaliate,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Galen Blanton in a news release. “OSHA enforces the law to protect all employees and level the playing field for law-abiding employers.”
“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 their files any information regarding the adverse action against the employee in this case and notify employees of their whistleblower rights under the OSH Act. The department’s Office of the Solicitor in Boston is litigating the case.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 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, and securities laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs web page.Under the OSH Act, 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 its website.