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Federal jury awards damages to injured immigrant employee

A contractor retaliated against an immigrant employee who sustained an injury at work, leading to the employee’s detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal jury has found.

The jury awarded the employee $50,000 in compensatory damages and $600,000 in punitive damages.

“The Department of Labor will not tolerate retaliation against employees who complain of workplace abuses, including when an employer seeks to use an employee’s perceived immigration status as a way to intimidate workers,” Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said in a statement about the verdict. “Successful enforcement of worker protection laws depends on workers being empowered and feeling safe enough to speak out for themselves and their fellow workers. If workers are brave enough to come forward, we will use all legal tools we have to protect them.”

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the employee fell from a ladder at work in March 2017 and was injured.

In addition to reporting the injury to his employer — Boston-based Tara Construction Inc. — the employee reported the incident to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The employer began an immigration investigation, which ended in ICE officers arresting the employee.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program then investigated the matter and found that the employer’s actions constituted retaliation against the employee.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act bars retaliation against employees for reporting workplace violations. The Act applies regardless of an employee’s immigration status and was the basis of the jury’s verdict.