A former county employee has filed a federal lawsuit against the county and several of its employees, claiming that he was fired in retaliation for reporting several asbestos violations that resulted in significant fines. The county denies firing the plaintiff for reporting the potential asbestos exposure, claiming that he was laid off in conjunction with necessary budgetary cuts.
In June of 2009, a contractor working for California’s Yuba County discovered insulation containing asbestos around pipes in the boiler room of the county courthouse, according to the plaintiff’s complaint. The contractor notified the county’s Administrative Services Office, who ordered employees to remove the asbestos.
When the asbestos removal process began, another employee reportedly told the plaintiff that he and other employees had not been properly trained to remove asbestos, and were thereby placing themselves in danger. The plaintiff told other administrative services staff about the issue. When they did not act, the plaintiff reported the potential asbestos exposure to the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, who later issued a total of $11,500 in fines to the county.
About six months after the fines were issued, the plaintiff was laid off. He is now claiming that his layoff was an act of retaliation for his asbestos whistle-blowing. He has filed a federal lawsuit claiming as much, and seeking lost wages, punitive damages, and court costs.
The county denies acting in retaliation, noting that the plaintiff was one of 22 people laid off during that month due to county budget cuts. The county also noted that the asbestos violations that resulted in the OSHA fines have been corrected.
Source: Appeal-Democrat, “Laid off Yuba worker sues, claiming retaliation for asbestos whistle-blowing,” Ben van der Meer, Sept. 2, 2011