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Ohio Bell sued for disciplining workers who reported injuries

Posted On: Feb. 11, 2014 12:00 AM CST

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit against the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., charging that it violated whistle-blower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 by disciplining 13 workers who reported workplace injuries.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland against Cleveland-based Ohio Bell, which operates as AT&T. It says the phone company issued one- to three-day suspensions and/or issued written disciplinary warnings against the workers.

For instance, William Bates, who injured himself Jan. 17, 2013, while loading boxes into his work vehicle at Ohio Bell, injured his back shoulder and neck. He sought medical treatment on Jan. 18, 2013, and was released back to work on Jan. 31, 2013.

Ohio Bell determined Mr. Bates had violated its ergonomics policy and issued him a written disciplinary warning and assessed a one-day suspension, which he served on Feb. 12, 2013, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit charges the company with violating OSHA’s whistle-blower provisions.

“It is against the law for employers to discipline or suspend employees for reporting injuries," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health.

“AT&T must understand that by discouraging workers from reporting injuries, it increases the likelihood of more workers being injured in the future. And the Labor Department will do everything in its power to prevent this type of retaliation,” Dr. Michaels said.

“We believe the suit is without merit. We’ve long been recognized as an employer of choice and are committed to full compliance with all federal and state laws, including workplace safety laws,” a spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T Corp. said in a statement.