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Roofing contractor sued over alleged whistleblower retaliation

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The U.S. Department of Labor has sued a Georgia roofing contractor for terminating its safety manager after he cooperated with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection. 

Kennesaw, Georgia-based Jasper Roofing Contractors Inc., which has multiple operations in Florida, and owner and CEO Brian Wedding allegedly retaliated against former safety manager Martin Keller, who was hired by Jasper in November 2014 after the company was inspected four times by OSHA and cited for multiple violations, according to the department’s lawsuit filed on Dec. 28 in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida. 

After being hired, Mr. Keller conducted a full assessment and report that found Jasper to be noncompliant with several safety standards, including not ensuring employees regularly used fall protection when performing work at heights greater than 6 feet, wore safety goggles when exposed to eye injury risks and wore hard hats to protect themselves from falling debris. 

He attempted to implement a new behavioral-based safety program in December 2014 that involved all employees in ensuring the safety of the roofers, including having salespeople conducting safety observations and superintendents filing safety observation reports, according to the lawsuit. However, Mr. Wedding later informed Mr. Keller that salespeople would no longer be required to perform safety observations, according to court documents. 

In December 2014, OSHA had performed an inspection of a Jacksonville, Florida, worksite and assessed Jasper a $70,000 penalty for a willful violation for failing to use fall protection, but an agency inspection of another worksite in the city in March 2015 again found a lack of fall protection, according to the lawsuit. During the March 2015 inspection, Mr. Keller allowed the roofers to speak with an agency inspector on-site and later provided the agency with documents outlining the company’s safety program and its enforcement, his assessment of Jasper’s compliance with safety standards and email communications with superintendents and Mr. Wedding documenting his inability to gain compliance, which allegedly angered company officials and led to his termination that same month, according to court documents. 

Two days after being fired, Mr. Keller filed a complaint with OSHA, which substantiated his complaint that the company and Mr. Wedding engaged in retaliation, including terminating his employment. The department’s lawsuit seeks back wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages and to have Mr. Keller’s personnel records expunged. 

Mr. Wedding could not be immediately reached for comment.