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Labor Department sues AT&T, alleging retaliation for employees reporting injuries

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, May 15, 2014, at 3:12 p.m.

The federal Department of Labor said Thursday it had filed a lawsuit against AT&T alleging that four of its employees in Kansas and Missouri were disciplined or received unsatisfactory performance appraisals for reporting workplace injuries.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, addresses separate instances of four employees working in different locations. The Labor Department alleges that Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. doing business as AT&T realiated against the employees after the workers reported they had been injured on the job.

Such retaliation is a violation of whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The company maintains any discipline or lower performance ratings were a consequence of the employees violating safety regulations.

According to the lawsuit, the workers and their injuries are as follows:

• An employee in Parkville, Mo., injured his knee in January 2011. The lawsuit alleges that the employee was found by the company to be at fault for the injury and his performance appraisal that year rated him below expectations in safety because of the injury.

• An employee in Liberty, Mo., suffered a broken wrist on a residential service call in August 2011. When the man returned to work in October, he was given a performance notice, which the lawsuit said is the first step in disciplinary actions that can lead to firing.

• An employee in Lawrence received a six-month performance notice after reporting a back injury while performing work at customer’s residence in October 2012.

• An employee in Overland Park in May 2012 stepped onto sunken pavement at an apartment complex where he was making a service call and turned his ankle. The lawsuit said the employee was withheld from duty until early June. In mid-June, the lawsuit said, the employee received a “Level Two-Written Reminder” for failing to follow the company’s “Slips, Trips and Falls Prevention” policy. The lawsuit said the higher-level disciplinary action skipped the initial step in AT&T’s disciplinary program of issuing a performance notice.

“We believe the suit is without merit,” AT&T said in a statement e-mailed to The Eagle. “We’ve long been recognized as an employer of choice and are committed to full compliance with all federal and state laws, including workplace safety laws.”

AT&T spokesman Chris Lester said in the e-mail that the employees were disciplined for failing to follow safety regulations, not for reporting injuries. He added they were not suspended and didn’t lose any pay.

Lester also said that the company encourages employees to report injuries as part of its “Code of Business Conduct.”

The labor department said an investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration concluded that AT&T illegally disciplined the employees for reporting their injuries, not because of workplace violations.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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