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Agency Cleared in 'Whistle-Blower' Case

December 17, 1985|HENRY WEINSTEIN | Times Labor Writer

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been cleared of charges that it fails to protect "whistle-blowers" who speak out about health and safety problems on the job, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Monday.

The Labor Department had been investigating Cal-OSHA over the whistle-blower allegations for several months. The probe was precipitated by complaints from Arnold Keith Gray of Indio, a former employee of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, who asserted that Cal-OSHA's program for protecting workers who speak out on occupational safety and health programs was not as effective as the federal OSHA program.

Gray told federal officials that he was harassed and later fired because he spoke out about dangerous conditions at the Eagle Mountain Pumping Plant where he worked.

A hearing officer employed by the state labor commissioner upheld Gray's complaint and ordered him rehired on two separate occasions as far back as 1979. However, the state took no action to force his reinstatement until earlier this year, when it filed suit on his behalf. That action was taken after Gray filed an official complaint against the state with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Both federal and state laws contain provisions protecting employees from retaliation for complaining about dangerous situations.

If Cal-OSHA had been found to be improperly enforcing labor law, federal officials could have taken over the state program or withdrawn half of its $28-million budget. But such sanctions were considered unlikely.

"Despite some shortcomings in the California anti-discrimination program, the majority of cases appear to have been handled promptly and satisfactorily," according to a federal OSHA report informing California officials and Gray of the decision. The report also noted that the state had "taken action to improve its anti-discrimination program."

However, the report added that the federal OSHA will "carefully monitor" California's handling of whistle-blowers and will require additional modifications in the state program if necessary.

Gray could not be reached for comment.

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