Massachusetts Whistleblower Receives $650,000; OSHA Investigation Found Employer Helped ICE Detain Whistleblower

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A whistleblower who worked at Massachusetts-based company Tara Construction Inc. will receive $650,000 in damages after a federal jury in the District of Massachusetts found that Tara Construction Inc. and its owner retaliated against the whistleblower. $600,000 is in punitive damages and $50,000 are in compensatory damages.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) filed a lawsuit against Tara Construction Inc. and its chief executive officer Pedro Pirez in February of 2019. The agency alleged that they retaliated against the whistleblower “by facilitating his arrest.” According to the 2019 news release, the complaint stated that “the employee sustained a serious injury when he fell from a ladder on March 29, 2017.” The whistleblower then “reported his injury to the defendants.” The DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “made an inquiry into the employer after finding out about the employee’s fall.”

The news release states: “Reporting an injury to an employer and causing an OSHA proceeding to be instituted are protected activities under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), which prohibits retaliation against employees because they engage in such activities.” OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces 25 whistleblower statutes, conducts investigations, and issues decisions regarding whistleblowers.

The DOL’s 2019 lawsuit alleged that soon after the whistleblower “engaged in protected activities, the “defendants initiated a law enforcement investigation and facilitated the employee’s detainment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” The news release states that Pirez “arranged for the employee to meet him at the Tara Construction office and the employee was arrested immediately after leaving the building.” Pirez testified that he did not have knowledge of the whistleblower’s whereabouts when he was detained, but “a law enforcement account indicates that Pirez told an officer present at the arrest when the employee would be at Tara Construction’s office.”

“Pirez further advised the officer that he had no objection to the employee’s arrest there. This account is supported by text messages and records of approximately 14 telephone calls between defendant Pirez and law enforcement in the days surrounding the arrest,” the news release states. An OSHA investigation later found that this was an act of retaliation.

Now, the whistleblower in the case will receive $650,000, as decided by a federal jury.

“The Department of Labor will not tolerate retaliation against employees who complain of workplace abuses, including when an employer seeks to use an employee’s perceived immigration status as a way to intimidate workers. Successful enforcement of worker protection laws depends on workers being empowered and feeling safe enough to speak out for themselves and their fellow workers. If workers are brave enough to come forward, we will use all legal tools we have to protect them,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda in the 2022 news release.

Read the news release here.

Read more employment/OSHA news on WNN.

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