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Jerky maker sued for firing employee making 911 call

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The U.S. Department of Labor has sued a West Virginia beef jerky manufacturer for terminating an employee who tried to call 911 after a co-worker’s thumb was amputated. 

The department sued Fairmont, West Virginia-based Lone Star Western Beef Inc. and owner John Bachman following the 2014 incident, in which employee Michele Butler-Savage came to the aid of injured co-worker Chris Crane by helping him apply pressure to the wound and using her cellphone to dial 911, according to the lawsuit filed on Thursday. 

Before she could complete the call, Mr. Bachman arrived at the scene, ordered her to hang up the phone, said he would decide if Mr. Crane needed an ambulance and ordered Ms. Butler-Savage back to work, according to court documents. 

Instead of calling an ambulance, Mr. Bachman collected the severed portion of the worker's thumb and told a supervisor to drive the injured employee to an urgent care clinic, according to the lawsuit. The injured worker was transferred to a hospital, but doctors were unable to reattach the severed body part. 

Ms. Butler-Savage also reported that Mr. Bachman did not fully clean or sanitize the area of the plant where the injury occurred. She discussed her concerns about the incident, cleanup, lack of appropriate personal protective equipment and her attempt to call 911 with a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector later that afternoon. Two days later, she was fired by Mr. Bachman, who blamed the termination on slow production, but also complained about government regulations and lawsuits filed against him, according to the lawsuit. 

After she was fired, Ms. Butler-Savage called the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and filed a complaint alleging that Lone Star Western Beef and Mr. Bachman specifically terminated her in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA’s investigation found the company violated the statute’s anti-discrimination provisions featured in Section 11(c) when Mr. Bachman terminated her for trying to call 911.

The department filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg, West Virginia, against Lone Star and Mr. Bachman seeking back wages and punitive damages for Ms. Butler-Savage. It also seeks to prevent the company and Mr. Bachman from violating the anti-discrimination provisions of the statute and to direct the company to post a notice at its facility for 60 days stating it will not discriminate or retaliate against employees involved in protected activities. 

"Lone Star Western Beef punished an employee for seeking emergency medical care for a seriously injured co-worker,” Richard Mendelson, OSHA regional administrator in Philadelphia, said in a statement. “Her efforts were protected under Section 11(c) and showed basic human decency. No worker should have to fear retaliation from their employer for calling 911 in an emergency or taking other action to report a workplace safety or health incident."

Mr. Bachman could not be reached for comment at the company’s listed phone number.