DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. – The Dearborn Heights School District must pay $102,905.78 in back wages, damages and other compensation to a former employee who was fired after reporting unsafe working conditions.
The employee must also be reinstated.
According to federal officials, the employee was a key witness in a 2012 whistleblower complaint from another employee, a janitor, that students and workers were being exposed to asbestos at Annapolis High School. Federal investigators determined that the district violated the Clean Air Act.
Officials said the employee helped with the investigation after being told by the director of operations and construction management to dry sand floor tiles that contained asbestos at the school. Workers were not trained in asbestos hazards and were not provided protective equipment, officials said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the district disputed the employees’ claims and media reports. The district also had a page on its website that said both employees presented misinformation. Federal officials said the district wrote on that page that it was its right to terminate the whistleblowers. This is illegal.
The employee also reported potential exposure to pesticides to the Environmental Protection Agency in fall 2016.
The district allegedly increased surveillance of the employee, led a lengthy progressive discipline campaign against them and eventually fired them for reporting unsafe conditions to state and federal agencies.
The district was ordered through a settlement in February 2018 to pay the other employee, the janitor, $210,261 in back wages and damages.