A Berks County beef jerky manufacturer and its owner are being sued by the U.S. Department of Labor for an employee injury which occurred in July 2014 when the company was in West Virginia.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia against Lone Star Western Beef Inc. and its owner, John Bachman, the Department of Labor said an employee was terminated for trying to call 911 when a co-worker accidently severed part of his thumb at the manufacturing plant. He had been using a band saw to cut beef as part of the manufacturing process when the incident occurred, according to the suit.
At that time, Lone Star was based in Fairmont, W. Va. It relocated to Muhlenberg Township in 2015.
After the incident, the employee helped the wounded worker apply pressure to the wound and used her cellphone to call 911, according to the suit. However, before responders could answer, the owner allegedly ordered her to end the call and two days later she was fired.
The company, which has been making beef jerky since 1996, did not return phone calls requesting comment.
The suit alleges that instead of calling an ambulance, Bachman collected the severed portion of the worker’s thumb and told a company supervisor to drive the injured worker to an urgent care clinic, where efforts to reattach the portion of the thumb were unsuccessful. The department is seeking back wages and punitive damages for the terminated employee.
After she was fired, the employee called the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and filed a complaint alleging that Lone Star and Bachman terminated her in retaliation for engaging in protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The agency’s investigation found the company violated the act’s anti-discrimination provision, according to the suit.
“We investigated that complaint and we found merit to that,” said Richard Mendelson, OSHA regional administrator in Philadelphia. “As a result of that, she suffered an averse action, which is the loss of her job. Retaliation includes termination; employees have a right to file complaints and voice concerns to their employer.”
Mendelson said OSHA issued a citation in 2013 for a band saw amputation which occurred at the Lone Star Western Beef plant in West Virginia. The amount was $1,600 and the employer paid $100, Mendelson said, noting that the citation is now in debt collection.
Though the company has relocated and closed the West Virginia plant, the employer is still required to pay for the 2013 citation, Mendelson said.
He said it was important for employees have a right to contact OSHA regarding severe injury incidents.
“It also helps the employer out,” Mendelson said. “Enlightened employers don’t silence those reports, they actively act on them. We want you to engage the proper enforcement.”
Since 2015, employers are required to report severe injury incidents that occur at their companies, Mendelson said.
Information can be found at www.osha.gov.