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DOL Sues Food Manufacturer For Terminating Employee Who Sought Help for Co-Worker

Feb. 23, 2017
The owner of Lone Star Western Beef allegedly told a worker to hang up a 911 call for an injured coworker, then fired her.

When a co-worker severed part of his thumb in July 2014, a food processor at a beef jerky manufacturing plant in West Virginia acted quickly, helping him apply pressure to the wound and using her cellphone to call 911.

Before responders could answer, the company’s owner ordered her to hang up. Instead of calling an ambulance, John M. Bachman - owner of Lone Star Western Beef, Inc., - collected the severed portion of the wounded worker’s thumb and told a company supervisor to drive the injured employee to an urgent care clinic. The injured worker ultimately was transferred to a hospital, where doctors were unable to reattach the severed body part.

In addition to her efforts to call for emergency assistance, the coworker noticed that Bachman did not clean or sanitize the area of the plant where the injury occurred fully. Later that afternoon, she discussed her concerns about the incident, cleanup, lack of appropriate personal protective equipment and her attempt to call 911 with a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector. Two days after the incident, she was fired.

The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Lone Star and Bachman, seeking back wages and punitive damages for the terminated employee.

“Lone Star Western Beef punished an employee for seeking emergency medical care for a seriously injured co-worker. Her efforts were protected under Section 11(c) and showed basic human decency,” said Richard Mendelson, OSHA regional administrator in Philadelphia. “No worker should have to fear retaliation from their employer for calling 911 in an emergency, or taking other action to report a workplace safety or health incident.”

After she was fired, the co-worker called OSHA and filed a complaint alleging that Lone Star Western Beef Inc. – and John M. Bachman specifically – terminated her in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The agency’s investigation found that the company violated the act’s anti-discrimination provision, or Section 11(c), when Bachman terminated the complainant for trying to call 911 in response to the incident.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, Clarksburg Division, the suit seeks the following:

  • Enjoining Lone Star Western Beef Inc., John M. Bachman and any officers, agents, servants or employees from violating Section 11(c)(1) of the act.
  • Directing the defendants to pay damages to the terminated worker for lost wages resulting from the termination.
  • Directing the company to post a notice at its facility for 60 days stating that it will not discriminate or retaliate against employees involved in activities protected by Section 11 (c) of the act.
  • Ordering all other appropriate relief including punitive damages, emotional distress, pain and suffering and any other expense incurred due to the termination.

The department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Philadelphia 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, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conducted may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.

Under the OSH 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 settling and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

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