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Case involves alleged retaliation for occupational illness

Sometimes, the alleged behavior of employers is almost too abhorrent to discuss in good taste. When devoted workers give their time and energy to an employer only to have that individual or company treat them with utter disrespect, it can be challenging to talk about in a diplomatic manner. However, it is critically important that we engage in discussion about frustrating cases, precisely because workers who experience similar realities must understand that they are not alone and can enforce their rights in court.

One recent and particularly challenging case involves charges of alleged retaliation by an employer against ill employees seeking compensation for their occupational diseases. Workers at an indoor gun range were made to regularly sift through soil riddled with toxic chemicals including lead. The massive, 500-ton soil pile contained bullets that the owners of the gun range desired to have reclaimed.

Slowly, a minimum of nine employees began to develop lead poisoning, in part due to the employer's alleged failure to provide them with proper safety equipment. The employer's practice of forcing workers to sift through toxic soil at night to avoid being held accountable by environmental officials suggests that the employer was well aware of the hazardous nature of this task.

When the employees filed workers' compensation claims due to their lead poisoning and complained to public safety officials about their conditions, the employer allegedly fired them all in retaliation. The workers are now suing their former employer for their physical and economic injuries. If the allegations in this complaint are indeed true, the gun range owners will hopefully be held properly liable and will be made an example of for any other employers contemplating similar behavior.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Fired for Getting Lead Poisoning, Nine Say," June Williams, Feb. 14, 2013

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