Flea Infestation Leads to Retaliation, OSHA Lawsuit
Journalist with Killeen Daily Herald was out of a job after complaining to newspaper management that fleas had infested the workplace. September 13, 2022
Media organizations depend on their reporters' abilities to expose issues of public concern, but a journalist at the Killeen Daily Herald was out of a job after complaining to the newspaper's management that fleas had infested the workplace.
Following a whistleblower investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit against the paper, owned by Frank Mayborn Enterprises Inc., after the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) found the company violated federal laws that protect workers who report workplace safety and health issues.
OSHA determined that in May and June 2021, the reporter sent messages to company management complaining about the infestation and the bug bites. The worker then had the bugs examined and learned they are no-see-ums or biting midges. After sharing this additional information with Killeen Daily Herald management, the company responded by terminating the reporter.
"Rather than addressing an employee's concerns about the safety and health of their workplace, the Killeen Daily Herald terminated their reporter who sought to prevent workplace exposure to unknown diseases carried by the insects," said Eric S. Harbin, OSHA regional administrator in Dallas. "The U.S. Department of Labor investigates violations of federal whistleblower statutes and protects workers who exercise their right to raise safety concerns without the fear of retaliation."
In its Aug. 29, 2022, filing in U.S. District Court, the department alleges the Killeen Daily Herald fired the employee for engaging in protected activity, and asks the court to order the newspaper to comply with the federal anti-retaliation provisions; reinstate and pay the employee back wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages; expunge the employee's personnel record; and other remedies.
"When employers retaliate against their workers for reporting unsafe working conditions, the department will work vigorously to secure the appropriate legal redress for workers," says John Rainwater, regional solicitor of labor in Dallas.
Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 25 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management.