City Of Niagara Falls Settles Worker Discrimination Case

Attorney General Spitzer and Department of Labor Commissioner Linda Angello today announced that the City of Niagara Falls has reinstated a city maintenance worker who had been fired for complaining about workplace safety issues.

Following an investigation by the State Department of Labor and the Attorney General’s Office, Ronald "Ernie" Bivins has been reinstated in his job as a municipal maintenance worker and awarded $21,805.47 in back pay and interest.

Mr. Bivins was fired from his job on May 5, 2005 after he complained to city officials about on-the-job safety procedures following an April 25, 2005 accident in which he was injured.

"Workers should not fear retaliation and dismissal for bringing problems of job safety to the attention of their supervisors," Attorney General Spitzer said. "My office will continue to protect employees who suffer discrimination when they speak out."

Labor Department Commissioner Angello said: "One of the Labor Department’s roles is to ensure a safe work environment. Mr. Bivins did the right thing reporting the safety violations and no one should fear retaliation for speaking out about unsafe working conditions."

Bivins was injured while working for the City’s Parks Department. He complained about unsafe work conditions, including inadequate safety training and protective equipment, and was fired on May 5, 2005. Bivins’ report of unsafe procedures was investigated by the state Department of Labor which confirmed that safety violations existed and required the city to correct them.

After being fired, Bivins filed a complaint of discrimination under the Public Employee Safety and Health Act (PESH), which protects public employees from retaliation. The Department of Labor undertook a thorough investigation of the circumstances of Bivins’ termination. It then referred the matter to the Attorney General.

The Attorney General’s Office confirmed the Department of Labor’s findings. Under the settlement announced today, Mr. Bivins has been reinstated to a permanent city job with seniority and will receive full back pay plus interest. The city further pledges to comply fully with PESH, including its prohibition on discrimination against public employees who report unsafe work conditions.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Deborah Baumgarten under the direction of Labor Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith. Douglas Shaw of the Buffalo District Office conducted the Department of Labor’s investigation, and Tsvi Gold, Counsel for the Department of Labor, recommended referral to the Attorney General’s Office.


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