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Jury rules against employer who fired safety whistleblowers


A Pennsylvania jury has found that a manufacturing company unlawfully terminated two employees because of their involvement in a safety investigation conducted by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In July 2014, employee Joshua Elbolde was operating a press brake that did not have machine guarding and three of his fingers were crushed and had to be amputated, according to court documents in Perez v. Lloyd Industries Inc. After the accident, owner William P. Lloyd of Lloyd Industries, based in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, terminated Mr. Elbolde’s employment and did not allow him back into the facility.

Matthew Spillane, another employee of the company, took photos of the press brake machine to assist Mr. Elbolde’s workers compensation claim, as well as other photographs documenting safety hazards at the facility, according to court documents.

In November 2014, Mr. Elbolde filed a formal complaint with OSHA, which inspected the facility but did not identify the person making the complaint, according to court documents. Mr. Lloyd then told another employee that there was a “rat” in the facility helping Mr. Elbolde and fired Mr. Spillane five days after the inspection. This termination prompted Mr. Spillane to file his own complaint with OSHA that he was unlawfully fired for engaging in protected activities under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which prohibits certain retaliatory acts against employees.

The OSHA inspection resulted in total fines of $822,000, which led Mr. Lloyd to terminate another employee, plant manager Santos Sanna, for cooperating with the OSHA inspection, according to court documents. The U.S. Department of Labor then sued the company and Mr. Lloyd in March 2016 for terminating the two employees participating in the investigation, and a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered its verdict on April 3.

“The U.S. Department of Labor proved the employer unlawfully fired workers for participating in a safety inspection,” Oscar Hampton, the department’s regional Philadelphia solicitor, said in a statement on Wednesday. “The jury agreed that the timing of these terminations was no mere coincidence and supported the workers’ legal right to a safe and healthy workplace.”

The court will determine damages in the trial’s second phase, according to OSHA’s statement.

Mr. Lloyd and his attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.


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