U.S. Department of Labor
U.S. Department of Labor

Washington – The U.S. Labor Department has determined the firing of three Charter Oak Health Center employees, who blew the whistle on the facilities’ failure to adequately respond to a tuberculosis exposure, was unlawful.

Under a consent order, Charter Oak agreed to pay the three fired employees back pay and “take other corrective action,” the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday.

“It’s critical to workplace safety and health that employee voices not be stifled,” said Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.

The health center said “we have dramatically improved our infection control processes… and have had no further incidents.”

The whistle-blowers are Doreen Coburn, who was the health center’s interim senior vice president of operations; Germaine Washington, who was the health center’s Healthy Start program co-ordinator; and Angela Griffin-Wilbury, the center’s former director of nursing.

The women were fired in February of 2012, about two months after they made a complaint about how the center handled exposure to a patient with tuberculosis.

This patient, who died in December of 2011, was often at Charter Oak, sometimes acting as a “greeter.” Because of exposure to this man, about 140 people were screened for tuberculosis and at least three underwent treatment.

In a statement, OSHA said the settlement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, “stipulates  corrective actions, including payment of lost wages of $85,000, $30,000, and $10,000, less taxes, for the three workers, neutral letters of reference, and worksite posting and individual notifications to employees about their rights as a whistleblower.”

In a statement, the health center said, “As Charter Oak has undergone a period of dramatic positive transformation since the events that occurred in early 2012, including a change in our senior management team, the time was right to the resolve the matter.” The health center said it did not admit to any wrongdoing.

“Charter Oak continues to respect the rights of our employees and appreciates all they do each day,” the statement said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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