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Connecticut Retirement Home Worker Wins OSHA Case After Employer Retaliation

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An employee of S.E.M. Terrace, a retirement home in Milford, was retaliated against by the operator of the home after complaining about a bedbug infestation.

According to court records, the employee was fired after filing a complaint with the local health department after efforts to fight a rampant bedbug infestation in the S.E.M. Terrace community had proved ineffective. The employee, who was acting as resident manager for the facility, was reprimanded and later fired for his actions.

The employee later brought suit against the employer, claiming a violation of the whistleblower provisions contained in the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act.  There was a compromise settlement agreement that was entered in to by the parties in which S.E.M. Terrace did not admit the employee’s allegations, but rather settled to avoid the expense and risks of litigation.

A spokesperson for OSHA says the case is a clear example of companies penalizing workers for speaking out about health and safety problems at work, something the law was designed specifically to prevent. OSHA said that no worker should ever have to fear losing his or her job for speaking out about health and safety violations.

The OSHA spokesperson said that federal whistleblower laws protect employees who report violations across a wide array of industries, including commercial motor carriers, airlines, food safety, consumer products and railroads. Employers in these and other industries are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise concerns. Any employee who believes he or she may have been retaliated against for engaging in lawful conduct is empowered to file a complaint against their employer under OSHA’s whistleblower protection program.

Determining whether a person meets the qualifications to file a whistleblower claim for retaliation can be confusing and often requires the advice of an experienced whistleblower attorney. It’s essential that if you think you might qualify you consult with someone who can fully inform you of your rights and obligations under the law. These claims can be complicated and the sooner you reach out for help the better off you’ll be.

CA

4 Comments

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  1. David Emmons says:
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    Your article has errors. We are faxing a response from the Board of Trustee’s.

    You may contact us directly by phone/mail/email:

    David W. Emmons
    Freedom Referral Group
    Managing Agent, SEM Terrace
    PO Box 397
    Loveland, OH 45140
    (513) 900-8568 Google Office
    (513) 576-0026 Office

  2. David Emmons says:
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    SECRETARY OF LABOR –v- SEM VILLA II, INC.

    To Whom It May Concern:

    SEM Terrace provides a non-profit ministry dedicated to providing services for older adults and their families. We serve persons of varying economic circumstances, ethnic origins and religious affiliations.

    SEM Terrace endeavors to minister to the whole person and strives to operate a residential facility which preserves and promotes human dignity, self determination, individual freedom and accustomed lifestyle.

    SEM Terrace endeavors to provide a safe and healthful workplaces for all of their employees.

    Although recent reports have stated that “the Magistrate ruled SEM Villa II, Inc. (aka SEM Terrace)… violated the Whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970”, that report is erroneous. There has never been any ruling that SEM Villa II, Inc. violated the Whistleblower provisions of OSHA.

    Instead, OSHA and SEM Villa II, Inc. entered into a compromise agreement that was memorialized by an Order of the Magistrate. That Order indicated that SEM Villa II, Inc. did not admit the allegations of the Complaint, but instead entered into a settlement of OSHA’s claims. This settlement was entered into in order to avoid the expense, risks and distractions of protracted litigation in Federal Court.

    With regard to the issue of bed bugs, that has been a problem that has repeatedly occurred in the Greater Cincinnati area. SEM Villa II, Inc. has always used reputable professionals to combat any incidence of bed bugs. When the Clermont County Health Department did an investigation after the complaint, it found no bed bugs.

    Regarding the employment of the employee in question, the retirement home maintains that it did not terminate any employee because of any complaint to the Health Department about bed bugs. However, pursuant to the Order that approved the settlement, SEM Villa II, Inc. is prohibited from disclosing any information about the former employee, or any actions of SEM Villa II, Inc. regarding that employment. That information cannot be disclosed without agreement with the Department of Labor.

    It should be noted that the employee in question did enter into a settlement agreement wherein the employee “understands and agrees that this settlement is a compromise of a doubtful and disputed claim”, and the liability of SEM Villa II, Inc., is “expressly denied.”

  3. David W Emmons says:
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    SECRETARY OF LABOR –v- SEM VILLA II, INC.

    To Whom It May Concern:

    SEM Terrace provides a non-profit ministry dedicated to providing services for older adults and their families. We serve persons of varying economic circumstances, ethnic origins and religious affiliations.

    SEM Terrace endeavors to minister to the whole person and strives to operate a residential facility which preserves and promotes human dignity, self determination, individual freedom and accustomed lifestyle.

    SEM Terrace endeavors to provide a safe and healthful workplaces for all of their employees.

    Although recent reports have stated that “the Magistrate ruled SEM Villa II, Inc. (aka SEM Terrace)… violated the Whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970”, that report is erroneous. There has never been any ruling that SEM Villa II, Inc. violated the Whistleblower provisions of OSHA.

    Instead, OSHA and SEM Villa II, Inc. entered into a compromise agreement that was memorialized by an Order of the Magistrate. That Order indicated that SEM Villa II, Inc. did not admit the allegations of the Complaint, but instead entered into a settlement of OSHA’s claims. This settlement was entered into in order to avoid the expense, risks and distractions of protracted litigation in Federal Court.

    With regard to the issue of bed bugs, that has been a problem that has repeatedly occurred in the Greater Cincinnati area. SEM Villa II, Inc. has always used reputable professionals to combat any incidence of bed bugs. When the Clermont County Health Department did an investigation after the complaint, it found no bed bugs.

    Regarding the employment of the employee in question, the retirement home maintains that it did not terminate any employee because of any complaint to the Health Department about bed bugs. However, pursuant to the Order that approved the settlement, SEM Villa II, Inc. is prohibited from disclosing any information about the former employee, or any actions of SEM Villa II, Inc. regarding that employment. That information cannot be disclosed without agreement with the Department of Labor.

    It should be noted that the employee in question did enter into a settlement agreement wherein the employee “understands and agrees that this settlement is a compromise of a doubtful and disputed claim”, and the liability of SEM Villa II, Inc., is “expressly denied.”

  4. Kevin Duffan says:
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    Mr. Emmons:

    Thank you for providing your update above. I have edited the original article to reflect these changes and taken you at your word that the link provided reporting that the Magistrate Judge had ruled against your company was erroneous.

    I am not sure why the reports that I read stated that this case proceeded to a court hearing, but I certainly understand the reasons for settling a case while maintaining a “no liability” position. As you know, your former employee felt that he was terminated for speaking up. I hope that in fact was not the case here. My article stands for the proposition that no employee should ever feel that speaking up about a safety concern will result in the loss of his or her job. I am glad that you agree with me on that point.

    Kevin