OSHA Files Whistleblower Suit Against Whole Foods

OSHA has sued Whole Foods Market Group Inc. to reinstate a former employee after the company allegedly fired the worker for voicing and reporting workplace health concerns regarding a raw sewage spillage at its store in Miami Beach.

OSHA has sued Whole Foods Market Group Inc. to reinstate a former employee with full back wages and benefits after the company allegedly fired the worker for voicing and reporting workplace health concerns regarding a raw sewage spillage at its store in Miami Beach.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, resulted from an investigation by OSHA that found the company violated the whistleblower protection provisions of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by unlawfully and intentionally terminating the individual's employment at the store.

"OSHA takes allegations of workplace discrimination very seriously," said Teresa Harrison, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Atlanta. "These types of allegations are thoroughly investigated, and employers violating the whistleblower protection provisions of the OSH Act are held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

OSHA is asking the federal court to remedy the situation by issuing an order that includes a permanent injunction against Whole Foods to prevent future violations of this law; reinstating the former employee with full benefits; paying back wages, punitive damages, and compensatory damages to the employee; expunging the employee's personnel file with respect to the matters at issue in this case; and granting any other appropriate relief.

On Nov. 2, 2009, the employee voiced concerns to a supervisor alerting him that a sewer line, which had ruptured on Nov. 1, was still spilling into the workplace including, but not limited to, the specialty cheese department and the restrooms. The employee then called the company's anonymous tip line, since no corrective actions had been conducted by store management. On Nov. 5, the worker contacted another manager expressing concern that the problem had not been corrected. Whole Foods then fired the worker on Nov. 5 for allegedly making false and malicious statements to the effect that management had not taken any steps to redress the sewage contamination at the workplace.

Whole Foods Market is a retail food store chain with its main office in Austin, Texas. OSHA is represented in court by the Labor Department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta.

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