A judge ordered a northern Idaho gas station owner to pay $100,000 to a former employee who was fired after reporting safety violations, including exposed wiring near water leaks and a lack of first aid equipment.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill upheld the findings of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation and ordered the payout last week by Sandpoint Gas N Go Lube Center owner Sydney Oskoui.
Oskoui says he will appeal Winmill’s ruling, contending that the case was handled unfairly and that he is facing discrimination because he is from Iran.
The case arose in 2012 after Daniel Kramer reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that he believed employees were working in unsafe conditions. Open automobile bays lacked nets, exposed wiring near water leaks presented a risk of electric shock, and employees didn’t have hard hats or basic first aid equipment, Kramer said.
The federal safety agency inspected Kramer’s claims, found several safety violations and told the business that citations and penalties would be coming.
A few days later, Kramer was fired, according to court documents. He later filed a complaint alleging that the company fired him for raising safety concerns.
Oskoui contends that Kramer was a poor employee who was only hired on a temporary, part-time basis while another employee finished getting a degree. The station owner said that Kramer’s dismissal was bad timing but not in response to the OSHA complaint and that Kramer used racial slurs toward him.
“We never got a fair trial, and the judge never listened to us,” Oskoui said in a phone interview.
Winmill ordered Oskoui to pay the former employee nearly $1,000 in lost wages as well as $100,000 in punitive damages. Punitive damages are generally intended to punish or deter the defendant from engaging in similar conduct in the future.
“The court got this one right,” Department of Labor Regional Solicitor Janet Herold said in a prepared statement. “By awarding punitive damages, the court sent a message that retaliation against workers who report safety violations will not be tolerated.”
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