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From Home Furnishing Business

Dept. of Labor Sues Mass. Retailer

The Labor Department alleges that Donald Pottern fired a worker who filed a safety complaint with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"Employees have a right to file a complaint with OSHA without fear of discharge or other forms of retaliation from their employer," said Robert Hooper, OSHA's acting regional administrator for New England. "Such retaliation can coerce workers into silence, preventing them from reporting or raising concerns about conditions that could injure, sicken or kill them."

According to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Springfield, the employee contacted OSHA on May 9, alleging safety and health hazards in the basement of Crown Furniture, including the presence of asbestos, mold and rodents. On May 11, Pottern discharged the employee after he questioned him as to why he filed the complaint. The now former employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, which investigated and found merit to the complaint. 

"The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the department the authority to file suit against employers that take action against employees in this manner," said Christine Eskilson, deputy regional solicitor of labor for New England. "The department will not hesitate to act when the case warrants."

The department's lawsuit seeks a judgment affirming that Pottern discharged the employee in retaliation for filing an OSHA complaint and permanently prohibits him from illegally retaliating against employees in the future. The lawsuit seeks payment of more than $20,000 in lost wages to the employee, plus interest, as well as payment of compensatory and/or punitive damages and posting of a nondiscrimination notice at the workplace.

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