On May 7, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) succeeded in obtaining a preliminary injunction in a whistleblower claim, which kept the Lear Corporation from being able to retaliate any further against a whistleblower named Kimberly King. This injunction is big for whistleblowers everywhere, as it could redefine the protection given to whistleblowers to include what is disclosed to the news media. Additionally, the injunction is a sign of the way OSHA has stepped up recently to protect whistleblowers across the country.
The Lear Corporation had employed King at its facility in Alabama, which makes the foam cushions used for headrests and car seats. She reportedly brought up her concerns about a chemical called toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and the potential health risks of exposure to that chemical for employees. Tests performed internally and by OSHA revealed that TDI levels were within the legal zone, but King was still concerned that she had developed asthma as a result of TDI exposure at the plant.
She brought her concerns to local media outlets, and an NBC News article reported on her allegations. The article included a report from a physician who discovered King fell among the top 25 percent of people in terms of isocyanate antibodies found in the bloodstream. King went on to be involved in a YouTube video accusing the Lear Corporation of wrongdoing.
The company went on to suspend King and one other employee without pay for participating in the video, saying King should have known there was no elevated exposure. The company also demanded that King take back her statements, which she refused to do.
The judge in King’s case determined that her involvement in the YouTube video, her reports to the media and her reports with OSHA all constitute protected activity, meaning the company did not have a right to terminate her.
To learn more about what constitutes protected activity in your whistleblower claim, work with Steve Kardell at Whistleblower Law for Managers.