Whistle-blower firing sparks lawsuit
Albany firm accused of dismissing man over improper asbestos removal claim
ALBANY The federal government is suing an Albany-based demolition and construction disposal company for allegedly firing a “whistle-blower” employee who reported improper asbestos removal practices while working at Gloversville High School in 2010. The Gloversville school district repaired in gym in 2010 for a cost of $7.2 million. The work was part of a district-wide construction program totaling $24.9 million, which voters approved in February 2007.
Robert DeLilli, who was Gloversville school district superintendent at the time, said he is unaware of any asbestos being left behind during the project.
The U.S. Department of Labor filed the lawsuit against Champagne Demolition LLC, of 7 Binghamton St., and manager Joseph Champagne in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
The lawsuit seeks reinstatement of the Donald Miles with full benefits and no break in seniority. It also asks the court to expunge Miles’ personnel record of references to the incident and post a notice of employees’ right to report hazards without retaliation. In addition, the lawsuit seeks lost wages, compensatory, punitive, emotional and financial distress damages for the worker.
Kevin Luibrand, an attorney representing Champagne, issued a response to the federal lawsuit: “The company and Mr. Champagne categorically deny each and every allegation. They were given an opportunity to buy their way out beforehand and refused to do so, because the allegations are false. They intend to fight them through the federal court process.”
Luibrand clarified the “buy their way out” statement, saying the DOL offered to settle with Champagne, but the company refused.
According to the lawsuit, Miles on June 10, 2010, reported to Champagne that the project supervisor, Leon Ostrander, was overseeing improper asbestos removal practices at the Gloversville site.
Miles reported the alleged violations to Robert Schiller, a manager with Champagne and Miles’ supervisor, court papers said. Schiller then told Joseph Champagne about Miles’ allegations. On June 11, the company fired Miles, the lawsuit alleges.
On June 11, Ostrander called Miles and left him a voice mail in which he acknowledged that Miles had made accusations against Ostrander, the lawsuit said. Ostrander is alleged to have told Miles in the voice mail, “I’m going to get you Donny, I going to get you.”
The lawsuit further states that Joseph Champagne on June 11 called Miles and left him a voice mail, telling Miles that Champagne had filed a police report against him and that he intended to sue him.
Champagne’s lawsuit in state Supreme Court alleges Miles stole from and defamed the company. The company is seeking $250,000 in damages and attorney fees against Miles. The lawsuit further alleges Miles himself engaged in improper asbestos removal procedures.
An DOL investigation subsequent to the company’s lawsuit determined that Champagne had violated the law, according to a DOL news release. The investigation alleged that Champagne “engaged in a series of unwarranted and harassing acts directed toward Miles, including but not limited to taking efforts to prevent Miles form obtaining new work since June 11, 2010,” court papers said.
DeLilli said he never heard of any problems with asbestos removal during the work. “This is news to me. Everything was done as ordered and checked off as done,” he said.
In a DOL news release, Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York, said, “All employees have the right to report potential safety and health hazards to their employers and to proper authorities without fear of harassment, termination or other retaliation. Such behavior can intimidate workers into silence, putting them at risk if they are afraid to report conditions that can injure or sicken them. That is unacceptable, and the Labor Department will take all necessary legal steps on behalf of whistle blowing workers.”