Whistleblower Lawsuit Leads to $190.5K Penalty for Illinois Employer

Federal safety officials say an Illinois company has been ordered to pay $190,547 in back wages and damages to a safety manager in a whistleblower case stemming from a Lansing, Ill., facility.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the order against Polar Service Centers after a federal investigation found the commercial tank trailer company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

The department found the company demoted, censured and ultimately forced the safety manager to resign after he reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation that he suspected a Polar customer was improperly certifying trailers to haul hazardous waste, a potential and dangerous safety violation.

“Censuring a worker for complying with the law clearly violates the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. This act is designed to protect the safety of the motoring public,” said Ken Nishiyama Atha, OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago.

On Sept. 12, 2013, Polar Service Centers suspended the service manager indefinitely, and later demoted and barred him from talking to customers or the Department of Transportation in reprisal for reporting a potential safety violation of a Polar customer’s suspected improper certification of tank trailers to haul hazardous waste. The manager had also requested that a driver of the Polar customer provide information concerning the potential safety violation to DOT. After the suspension, demotion and censure, he was forced to resign from his employment.

OSHA has ordered Polar Service Centers to reinstate the manager to his position, pay $88,847 in back wages minus applicable employment taxes, $100,000 in punitive damages and $1,700 in compensatory damages as well as reasonable attorney fees.

Both parties have 30 days from the receipt of OSHA’s findings to file objections and request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Source: OSHA