U.S. files COVID-19 whistleblower suit against Texas dentists

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The U.S. Department of Labor is suing a Texas dental practice and its owners on behalf of two employees who claim they were retaliated against for reporting COVID-19 safety concerns, according to a department release issued July 15.

The department filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, against Dr. Roger Bohannan and Dr. David Bohannan and their practice Roger H. Bohannan DDS in North Richland Hills, TX. The suit claims that they failed to reinstate a dental hygienist and a dental assistant who expressed concerns about what COVID-19-related safety protocols would be in place when the practice reopened in the spring of 2020.

"Bohannan Dentistry violated employees' rights by terminating them for reporting concerns about unsafe working conditions," said Eric Harbin, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regional administrator in Dallas.

In March and April 2020, all employees at the Texas practice were furloughed when it was forced to close at the height of the pandemic. While furloughed, the hygienist and assistant questioned what safety precautions would be taken once the practice reopened.

After a call to return to work, the employer did not reinstate the hygienist who cited infection control guidance from OSHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, the employer contacted the dental assistant about returning to work but rescinded the offer after the individual asked about safety measures, the department charged. All other Bohannan Dentistry employees were reinstated when the furlough ended, according to the department.

An OSHA investigation determined that the dental practice discriminated against the employees for exercising their rights under section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and for engaging in the protected activity of making a good faith health and safety complaint.

In the suit, employees are seeking damages, plus interest, for past and future lost wages and benefits resulting from their termination; reimbursement for costs and expenses; compensatory damages, including payment for emotional pain and distress; and unspecified punitive damages.

Furthermore, the department vows to vigorously enforce workers' protections.

"Workers should not fear losing their job because they raise safety concerns within the workplace," Harbin said.

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