Bus manufacturer settles whistle-blower case

Published: Jul. 11, 2011 at 3:44 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2011 at 9:32 PM EDT
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News release from the Department of Labor

ATLANTA – The U.S. Department of Labor has reached an agreement with Georgia-based school bus manufacturer Blue Bird Corp. resolving a lawsuit filed by the department alleging that the company illegally terminated a maintenance employee because the employee raised safety concerns regarding the proper use of a bucket lift.

The settlement requires Blue Bird to pay the employee $170,800 in back wages plus $5,625 in interest due on the back wages. Should the state of Georgia seek repayment of the unemployment benefits received by the employee, Blue Bird has agreed to pay that amount to the state. In addition, the company will pay the Labor Department's costs associated with the appeal in this case.

"After much litigation, we are pleased with the successful settlement of this case in favor of the employee. The courts confirmed the Labor Department's argument that every employee has the right to report any safety concerns in the workplace without fear of retaliation," said Cindy Coe, administrator of OSHA's Atlanta Regional Office. "The Labor Department will hold companies accountable when they violate basic worker rights."

The case allegedly began when Blue Bird required the employee to use a bucket lift truck to install Christmas wreaths for the company. The employee requested training in the operation of the equipment, resulting in a disagreement with management over whether the employee was trained. That disagreement led to the employee's termination.

An OSHA whistleblower investigation found that the employee was illegally terminated for refusing to work under unsafe conditions. When the company refused to reinstate the employee, the Labor Department's Office of the Solicitor filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Georgia, which ruled in favor of the department.

The company appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which agreed with the department. Following those rulings, the company has agreed to the current settlement. Prior to this settlement, the company already had reinstated the employee in his job as part of the district court's ruling.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, as well as 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various security and consumer product safety laws; as well as trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, rail, and workplace safety and health regulations.

Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.

Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at http://www.whistleblower.gov.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

Solis v. Blue Bird Corp. Civil Action File Number 5:06-CV-341 (CAR)