BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has ordered Clearwater Paper Corp. to pay a former employee $235,000 after ruling the company fired him for filing a report with a federal agency about unsafe working conditions at the company’s sawmill in Lewiston, Idaho.
The company fired Anthony Tenny in 2010 less than a month after an Occupational Safety & Health Administration inspection of the sawmill prompted by Tenny’s complaint about high wood dust levels.
Tenny then filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, and the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in 2013.
The Spokane, Washington-based company said Tenny was fired for insubordination. But U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill called that explanation “preposterous.”
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“The court therefore finds that all of the reasons advanced by Clearwater for firing Tenny . are a fabrication intended to hide the real reason for Tenny’s termination,” Winmill wrote. “The court further finds that the real reason Tenny was fired was because he filed an OSHA complaint.”
Winmill also in his order issued an injunction barring Clearwater Paper from retaliating against employees who make OSHA reports.
“There are many things we disagree with in the decision,” Clearwater Paper spokesman Matt Van Vleet told the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1WhB1pi ). “We are reviewing the decision and assessing whether we will appeal the matter.”
In calculating the monetary damages, Winmill noted that Clearwater Paper sold the Mill in November 2011 to Idaho Forest Group, which terminated all of the mill’s hourly bargaining employees. Winmill said Tenny was entitled to $108,000 in economic damages, which included $76,000 in back pay he would have received before the sawmill was sold. The award also included $50,000 for emotional distress damages.
Winmill also awarded about $77,000 in punitive damages in order, he wrote, to deter future misconduct after determining “Clearwater fired Tenny to chill the reporting of safety violations.”
Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com