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OSHA sues Whole Foods over whistleblower issue at Miami store

After a worker voiced concerns regarding a raw sewage spill in the workplace, a Miami Beach grocery store, the employee was allegedly fired.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now suing the grocer, Whole Foods Market Group Inc., arguing that the employee was wrongfully terminated. OSHA's suit requests that the reported whistleblower is re-hired with full benefits.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on the basis that Whole Foods violated a whistleblower provision in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The employee reportedly told a supervisor in 2009 that a sewer line that had ruptured one day earlier was spilling into the workplace, including into the restrooms and the specialty cheese department. After management allegedly failed to correct the issue, the worker called the company's anonymous tip line. Finally, three days after the initial report to the supervisor, the worker told another manager about the issue, concerned that it had not been fixed. The worker was fired that same day.

The company said that the employee was fired because his complaint that management had not fixed the sewage contamination was both false and malicious, according to a recent report.

In addition to reinstating the worker with benefits, OSHA is asking the court to award back pay, punitive and compensatory damages to the worker and to erase related information from the employee's personnel file. OSHA is also asking that a permanent injunction be issued against the grocer to prevent it from breaking this law in the future.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "OSHA Files Whistleblower Suit Against Whole Foods," Dec. 10, 2011

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