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Jury awards fired foundry whistleblower $40,000

Jury verdict

A Pennsylvania jury has awarded $40,000 for lost wages, pain and suffering and punitive damages to a former employee of an iron-casting company who claimed he was terminated for reporting alleged safety and health hazards to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Zachary Zettlemoyer was employed by Hamburg, Pennsylvania-based Fairmount Foundry Inc. and repeatedly complained about a roof leak in an area where he was working, which he considered to be a safety hazard because it leaked directly into an electrical box and created a slipping hazard, according to court documents in Acosta v. Fairmount Foundry Inc.

In September 2015, Mr. Zettlemoyer filed an anonymous complaint with OSHA after the hazard had not been corrected, and the agency conducted an unannounced inspection the next month. Following the inspection, Douglas Vaughn, the company’s president of operations, confronted Mr. Zettlemoyer regarding the complaint, and Mr. Zettlemoyer was terminated several days later, according to court documents.

Mr. Zettlemoyer filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA on Oct. 28, 2015, and the agency’s OSHA whistleblower investigation determined that Fairmount Foundry fired him in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which prohibits certain retaliatory acts against employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor sued the company in September 2017 and the jury entered its verdict on April 1.

“The jury recognized that every employee has a legally protected right to report safety hazards to OSHA without fear of termination,” Oscar Hampton, the department’s regional Philadelphia solicitor, said in a statement on Wednesday. “By compensating the complainant and assessing an additional penalty against the company, the jury sent the message that such behavior will not be tolerated.”  

Mr. Vaughn and the company’s attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.

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