At least that is the thought one might take from a jury verdict at the end of May in Maine state court. As reported by Michael Afthim’s counsel, Peter Thompson and Associates in their blog, Maine Employment Lawyer, his complaints about the working conditions of the men he supervised led to his termination and subsequent suit under the Main Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.
According to his counsel:
Mr. Afthim became concerned about a number of safety issues in the warehouse that he ran including the lack of ventilation, the company’s decision to use cheaper cotton gloves instead of splinter resistant leather gloves, and the insufficient staffing on the second shift. Mr. Afthim noted that the ventilation was so poor in the warehouse that his employees were inhaling significant amounts of dust and dirt. Mr. Afthim made multiple reports and complaints to ALR’s management about the ventilation issue but ALR did nothing. Mr. Afthim also noted that the company’s switch to cotton gloves from leather gloves was leading to significant splinters for his employees who spent their days constructing and repairing wooden pallets. Mr. Afthim also brought this concern to ALR without an adequate response. Mr. Afthim then noticed that due to understaffing that the workers on the second shift were rushing to keep up with their duties and he became very concerned that this would inevitably lead to a serious injury such as a fall or an accident with the fork lift.
A year earlier, the Maine Human Rights Commission had passed on filing a lawsuit in the case. See Commission Meeting Minutes of June 29, 2009. Although I am not sure of the significance since I don’t know about Maine’s process, apparently there had been no written objection filed to the investigator’s report. Commission Meeting Minutes of April 13, 2009.
With the current popularity of whistleblowing in legislatures including Congress, and quite frequently with juries, this is a story that may frequently be repeated.