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February 09, 2024
Connecticut sports bar ordered to pay $359K in whistleblower suit

A federal court ordered a Milford, Connecticut, sports bar to pay a total of $359,485 in back pay, emotional distress damages, withheld compensation, and punitive damages to employees who were fired after participating in an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection, the agency announced February 7.

Department of Labor (DOL) attorneys filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut against Milford Sports Bars LLC, doing business as Champions Grill and Bar, and Loren Drotos, also known as Mark Roberts, Mark Drotos, and Mark Lawrence. The DOL alleged that, after employees were fired, the employers sought to further discourage employees from engaging in protected activities, such as cooperating with federal investigators, sending a message to employees that they shouldn’t talk to OSHA inspectors.

“Discouraging or preventing workers from participating in an OSHA inspection may mask or delay identification of hazards that could harm workers,” Galen Blanton, OSHA’s Boston regional administrator, said in a statement. “Employees have a right to participate in OSHA inspections and to file a whistleblower complaint if their employer retaliates against them for exercising their rights.” 

OSHA’s whistleblower protection authority was established in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to protect workers who lodge safety or health complaints or cooperate with agency investigations of workplace safety and health violations. OSHA is now responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints under more than 20 federal statutes.

Ohio chicken plant facing $393K in OSHA fines

Case Farms Processing Inc., a chicken processing plant in Winesburg, Ohio, faces $393,449 in OSHA penalties for three repeat, seven serious, and four other-than-serious violations, the agency announced February 7. OSHA also placed Case Farms Processing in its Severe Violators Enforcement Program.

Inspectors found machine guarding and trip-and-fall hazards in the facility’s live-hang department that are similar to violations found during earlier inspections. OSHA cited the employer for not using required lockout/tagout procedures, not training workers in lockout/tagout procedures, a lack of machine guarding to protect workers from contact with operating machine parts, and exposing workers to fall and electrical hazards.

According to OSHA, since 1988, the agency has cited Case Farms 70 times at its facilities in North Carolina and Ohio, resulting in about 450 violations—most related to machine guarding, lockout/tagout procedures, fall and electrical hazards, and processing safety management. 

“Case Farms Processing again violated federal safety regulations to protect workers on the job. Returning to a facility to find similar violations identified in previous inspections, makes OSHA gravely concerned about worker safety at this facility,” Larry Johnson, OSHA’s Columbus, Ohio, area office director, said in a statement. “Case Farms exposes its Winesburg workforce–mostly workers with limited English proficiency–to life-altering injuries. The company must come into compliance with the law immediately.”

OSHA’s lockout/tagout standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) §1910.147) is its sixth most cited standard, the agency announced last fall. OSHA cited 2,554 lockout/tagout violations in fiscal year (FY) 2023. The machine guarding standard (§1910.212) is OSHA’s tenth most cited standard, cited 1,644 times in FY 2023.

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