California’s Sonoma State University will have to pay employees potentially exposed to asbestos and other toxins due to occupational health and safety violations, a judge ordered at the end of last month. Employees will split a portion of the $2.3 million penalty the school faces for its environmental violations, according to The Press Democrat. The penalty is in addition to the $387,000 awarded in March to a former employee turned whistleblower, Thomas Sargent, for raising concerns about asbestos in crumbling floor and ceiling tiles in Stevenson Hall, one of the campus’ original buildings.
Exposure to asbestos is linked to the development of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the organs, most commonly the lungs and abdomen. There is no known cure for mesothelioma.
The 231 employees of Stevenson Hall will share about $725,000 of the penalty, amounting to $3,100 per employee, according to the news source. The university must also rehire Sargent as an environmental health and safety specialist and pay him two years back wages. Dustin Collier, a lawyer for Sargent, stated:
We are happy that between the judge and the jury, these violations have been exposed. The university can no longer deny their existence. We are hopeful this will be a catalyst for change.
Sargent raised the alarm over how the school ordered employees to blow lead off a roof with a leaf blower and contacted environmental authorities when asbestos dust was found in Stevenson Hall. For those actions, he claimed in his lawsuit he faced retaliation at work and eventually felt he had to quit in July 2015 after 24 years with the school. The University says it will appeal the decision.
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