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OSHA official earns record settlement in retaliation lawsuit

Four years ago, the top record keeping official at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Bob Whitmore, was fired. It seemed a weird move at the time -- Whitmore had recently been quoted in an investigation piece done by a newspaper that was looking at workplace injuries, and how they may be underreported. But, OSHA explained Whitmore was fired because of his attitude.

That explanation was initially upheld, but the case was tried again after it was discovered some crucial evidence was not considered. The new trial has led to the largest recorded federal retaliation settlement, as Whitmore will be paid an $820,000 settlement by the U.S. Department of Labor (which oversees OSHA).

So what caused the reversal in Whitmore's fortunes? He was deemed a whistleblower.

According to the Whistleblower Protection Act, federal employees cannot be retaliated against for blowing the whistle against their own agency. Whitmore spoke to newspaper investigators, revealing that OSHA failed to properly punish employers who did not properly report workplace injuries and accidents. Specifically, the newspaper piece was looking at the poultry industry.

Whitmore, then a 37-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Labor, spoke candidly and honestly about the issue. While he cannot work their anymore (nor can he seek employment there for 15 years, as per the settlement), Whitmore has earned a big victory for both himself and federal employees who are retaliated against simply for doing the right thing.

Many employers fire someone in the wake of a tumultuous event -- even if the fired employee's actions were noble. Calling out illegal aspects of a company in a constructive can make an employee a whistleblower, which means they are protected from any retaliatory act.

Source: Charlotte Observer, "Feds to pay OSHA whistleblower $820,000 settlement," Ames Alexander, June 5, 2013

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