Florida Employee’s Whistleblower Lawsuit Claims Unlawful Retaliation For Reporting Safety Violations
For more than twenty years, our Ocala, Florida whistleblower lawyers have represented Florida employees who have been retaliated against for reporting or refusing to participate in an employer’s illegal actions. Through their decades of experience representing whistleblowers, our Marion County, Florida whistleblower attorneys know that fear of retaliation is the primary reason why employees remain silent instead of reporting or refusing to participate in an employer’s illegal activities. The purpose of the Florida Whistleblower Act is to encourage employees to report employers who violate the law by protecting them from retaliation for having done so. An employee who has been retaliated against in violation of the Florida Whistleblower Act has a cause of action against the employer for damages, reinstatement, and injunctive relief.
In this article, our Ocala, Florida whistleblower lawyers explain how the alleged facts in the recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Woronec & Collins v. Zachary Industrial, Inc., Case No. 8:18-cv-2244 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 12, 2021) illustrates the broad protection afforded to Florida employees who “blow the whistle” by reporting or refusing to participate in an employer’s alleged unlawful activities.
In that case, Robert Woronec (Woronec) brought a whistleblower lawsuit against his former employer, Zachary Industrial, Inc. (Zachary), pursuant to the Florida Whistleblower Act. Woronec claims that Zachary violated the Florida Whistleblower Act by laying him off in retaliation for complaining about alleged safety issues at the plant where he worked.
Zachary hired Woronec in 2014 when it acquired a contract with Tampa Electric Company (TECO) to perform maintenance and repair work at TECO’s electric power plant in Polk County, Florida. Woronec worked for Zachary at the Polk power plant. When he was laid off, Woronec’s job classification was “Lead Multicraft I,” indicting that he was proficient in more than one craft, such as welding and ironworking, and qualified to give direction to other craftspeople.
Woronec maintains that he continuously reported alleged safety violations to Zachary management and refused to participate in work activities that purportedly did not conform to OSHA safety regulations. In January 2015, Woronec asserts that he complained to management about claimed electrical safety issues on a demolition project. In July 2015, Woronec contends that he lodged an objection to management about alleged unsafe working conditions while he and another employee were using an overhead crane. On May 23, 2016, according to Woronec, he instructed other employees to stop working due to allegedly dangerous working conditions until a foreman could procure the necessary safety materials.
On June 3, 2016, less than two weeks after Woronec allegedly engaged in activity protected by the Florida Whistleblower Act, Zachary laid Woronec off. Documentation relating to the layoff, according to the trial court, indicated that the reason for the layoff was a “reduction in force,” but also indicated that Woronec had a poor attendance record and was not recommended for rehire.
Whistleblower Claimant Gets Jury Trial
Zachary filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Woronec’s whistleblower claim. In support of its motion for dismissal, Zachary maintained that the record established that Woronec was laid off for a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason, and not in retaliation for Woronec’s complaints about alleged safety issues at the Polk power plant. The trial court denied Zachary’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Woronec had presented sufficient evidence that he was laid off in retaliation for complaining about alleged safety issues at the Polk power plant to bring his whistleblower claim before a jury for resolution.
In denying Zachary’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on the proffered explanation for Woronec’s layoff. The trial court determined that Zachary’s “articulation of the reason for Woronec’s layoff has varied over time.” Contemporary documentation relating to the layoff, the trial court pointed out, “reflects attendance and performance issues, as well as the reduction in force.” In 2016 and 2016 however, the trial court noted, Zachary told OSHA that Woronec’s layoff was based solely on “economic factors, specifically the reduction in the number of positions, with no mention of productivity or attendance issues.” The initial assertion of productivity and attendance issue, the trial court reasoned, “arguably conflicts with its economic factors rationale.”
Although Zachary initially claimed that Woronec was laid off due to productivity and attendance issues, the trial court pointed out that “there is no evidence that Woronec was ever written up or formally reprimanded or disciplined for general productivity or attendance issues.” In fact, the trial court observed, Woronec’s “layoff paperwork expressly stated that he had met expectations with regard to productivity.” The trial court concluded that all of this evidence, taken cumulatively, was sufficient to “indicate” that the proffered explanation for Woronec’s layoff was a pretext for retaliation against him for complaining about alleged safety issues at the Polk power plant.
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Ocala, FL Whistleblower Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida whistleblower attorneys have dedicated their practice to representing retaliation victims. If you have been retaliated against for complaining about an employer’s illegal activities or have questions about your rights as a whistleblower, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Ocala, Florida whistleblower lawyers.