Florida Verdicts

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Machinist claimed he was fired for reporting OSHA violations

Amount:

$38,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Florida

Venue:

Pinellas County

Court:

Pinellas County Circuit Court, 6th

Case Type:

Employment – OSHA, Retaliation, Whistleblower, Wrongful Termination

Case Name:

Quentin Postell v. Metal Culverts, Inc.,
No. 16-004576-CI

Date:

December 13, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Quentin Postell (Male, 42 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

William John Gadd;
The Law Office of W. John Gadd, P.A.;
Clearwater,
FL,
for
Quentin Postell ■ Kyle J. Lee;
Lee Law, PLLC;
Brandon,
FL,
for
Quentin Postell

Defendant(s):

Metal Culverts Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Gregory A Hearing;
Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing, P.A.;
Tampa,
FL,
for
Metal Culverts Inc. ■ Mahlon H. Barlow III;
Sivyer Barlow & Watson, P.A.;
Tampa,
FL,
for
Metal Culverts Inc.

Facts:

On May 26, 2016, plaintiff Quentin Postell, 42, was fired from his job as a machinist at Metal Culverts Inc., a metal pipe production company. He had been working at the Clearwater plant for about one year. Postell claimed he was terminated in retaliation for reporting Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations. Postell sued Metal Culverts, alleging violation of whistleblower laws. According to Postell’s counsel, he first pointed out OSHA violations to his supervisor in fall 2015. He noted there was water and oil on the floor which created a slip-and-fall hazard. He also noted forklifts that were leaking fluid and oil, creating a potential fire hazard. Additionally, he pointed out that the roof was leaking water onto high-voltage machines with frayed cables, which could cause an employee to suffer an electric shock. After these complaints, someone at the company contacted OSHA. Inspectors showed up at the plant in December 2015 and in January 2016. Each time, Postell walked through the plant with the inspectors to point out the violations. After the January visit, OSHA told the company that it would be fined. By April 2016, Postell claimed, the problems had still not been fixed and he notified the company’s owner, who came to the plant. Postell again pointed out the violations and also showed photos and videos of them. Postell was fired a month later, six days after the company wrote a check to pay the fine Postell was told he was fired because he did not wear hard hats and safety glasses and he took extended breaks. His counsel claimed, however, that no one had been fired for such violations before, and in any case Postell always wore his hard hat at work, while no one at the facility wore safety glasses. Moreover, the company did not start tracking break violations until May 19, 2016, the same day the company received its first OSHA fine. It stopped tracking the break violations immediately after Postell was terminated. Thus, counsel alleged, the company started recording its employees on breaks so it would have an excuse to fire Postell. Counsel additionally claimed that Postell had received a raise in March 2016, just months before his termination, and that another employee took more breaks than Postell but was not terminated. The company’s counsel insisted that there was no causal connection between the OSHA violations and Postell’s termination. Postell was fired for the safety and break violations. Postell had been written up previously for violating company policy and getting into an argument with a co-worker. Counsel claimed that reporting OSHA violations would not be cause for punishment, because OSHA is a “friend” who “lets us know when something is wrong.” The defense called the plant owner as a witness, who testified that the leaking roof Postell had allegedly complained about could not be repaired. However, Postell’s counsel pointed out that another defense witness, the former plant manager, testified that the roof could be repaired but that the owner refused to pay for it.

Injury:

A month or two after being fired, Postell got a job with Uber, but his salary was $1,000 a month lower than it had been at Metal Culverts. Postell said that he was embarrassed that he could not provide for his fiancée after his termination. His physical health had allegedly declined because he no longer had health insurance and thus could not afford his blood pressure medication. Postell sought recovery of $19,000 in lost wages from the time of his termination to the time of the verdict. He also sought damages for emotional distress. The defense counsel did not dispute damages.

Result:

The jury determined that Postell was fired because of whistleblower activity that was protected under Florida law. It awarded damages of $38,000.

Quentin Postell: $19,000 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability; $19,000 Personal Injury: emotional pain and anguish

Trial Information:

Judge:

Jack R. St. Arnold

Trial Length:

3
 days

Trial Deliberations:

2
 hours

Jury Vote:

6-0

Jury Composition:

3 male/ 3 female; 1 African-American/ 5 white

Post Trial:

Defense counsel motioned for a directed verdict, a new trial or remittitur.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Additional information was gleaned from court documents. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.