The US Department of Labour has filed a lawsuit against a contractor in Boston, Massachusetts, alleging it facilitated the arrest of a worker by immigration officials in retaliation for sparking a safety probe after he fell off a ladder.
The case is being brought against Tara Construction and its chief executive Pedro Pirez, who were investigated under a Whistleblower Protection Program of the Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The OSHA investigation concluded that the defendants’ actions constituted retaliation against the employee for protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), and would dissuade a reasonable worker from reporting an injury.
The unnamed worker reported a serious injury to his employer after falling off a ladder at work on 29 March 2017.
OSHA became aware of the incident and made an enquiry.
The Department alleges that shortly afterward, the defendants initiated a law enforcement investigation and facilitated the employee’s detainment by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The allegation is that Pedro Pirez arranged to meet the worker at Tara’s offices, and the employee was arrested upon leaving the building.
Pirez told OSHA he had no idea how law enforcement knew where the employee would be when he was detained, but the Department said a law enforcement account indicates that Pirez told an officer present at the arrest when the employee would there.
It said this account is supported by text messages and records of approximately 14 telephone calls between Pirez and law enforcement in the days surrounding the arrest.
Galen Blanton, OSHA regional administrator, said: "Employees must be able to report injuries and unsafe workplaces without fear that their employers will retaliate. OSHA enforces the law to protect all employees and level the playing field for law-abiding employers."
Maia Fisher, Regional Solicitor of Labour, said the OSH Act prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights regardless of their immigration status.
The Department accuses the defendants of breaking Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.
If convicted, Tara Construction will be forced to pay the employee back wages, interest, and compensatory and punitive damages.
Tara Construction would also have to provide a neutral reference letter and delete any files against the employee referencing the case.
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