Asbestos Whistleblower Loses Her Job

Mary Ann Gruzs of Lower Windsor Township, Pennsylvania, has filed suit against her former employer on grounds that she was terminated because of her complaints of asbestos-containing materials in the building where she worked. Ms. Gruzs was a beautician employed in the salon of a York County nursing home until June of 2006. According to nursing home management, Ms. Gruzs was fired in accordance with their “progressive discipline policy.” They allege that Ms. Gruzs failed to show up to work for three days in a row, giving no advance notification regarding her absences. Not so, says Ms. Gruzs, who says that she in fact did provide notice. Ms. Gruzs noticed broken floor tiles on the floor of the salon that was in deteriorating condition. It eventually became a tripping hazard; Gruzs frequently had to pick up loose tiles and throw them away. In May of 2006, York County, which operates the nursing home, hired an outside contractor to replace the floor tiles instead of the maintenance workers on staff. When Ms. Gruzs inquired about this seeming irregularity, she discovered that the head of maintenance had refused to do the work because of a possible asbestos hazard.

Next, Ms. Gruzs discovered that the outside contractor was not licensed for asbestos abatement. When she complained to her union representative and the maintenance manager, they denied the existence of any asbestos hazard. Finally, Ms. Gruzs sent in samples of the floor tiles to a lab for tests. The results showed dangerous levels of asbestos in the tiles and the adhesive used as a fixative. When she filed a grievance with her union, she was informed that a hearing would be held. Instead, she was terminated. She is now seeking damages in the amount of $350,000. County authorities continue to insist that Ms. Gruzs was fired for failing to show up to work. According to policy, three consecutive absences for which no notification is received results in automatic termination. They acknowledge that the floor tiles contained asbestos, but deny that it constituted a health hazard. So… who is the injured party here? All that can be considered at this point–in the absence of proof for either side’s claim–is the fact that, were York County found to be in violation of federal and state asbestos statutes, it could result in very stiff fines.