On February 20, 54-year-old John Neves, an Oregon state employee, filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that he had been unknowingly exposed to asbestos for 18 months in the workplace when he remodeled residential buildings at a historic youth detention center. He also says that his supervisor knew of the contamination and let the plaintiff continue to perform construction and renovation work in buildings containing asbestos, exposing plaintiff and others working with him – including youth at the facility – to the dangerous mineral.
In early 2017, just before he learned about the asbestos, Neves developed a blood-producing cough, which he fears may be related to the exposure.
The next month, Neves says that he had removed some wall panel, after which his boss told him to put them back so that state officials would not see the asbestos. This disturbing conversation was the first Neves knew about the contamination. After an angry confrontation with his boss, Neves alleges that he was told that he was being put on paid leave because he had allowed youth to hide contraband, something he denies.
In March 2017, the plaintiff reported the situation to Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as Oregon OSHA. The agency issued two serious violation citations for inadequate asbestos training and failure to notify workers about the asbestos, for which it was fined.
In July 2017, just before the citations, Neves was fired.
The Whistleblower Lawsuit
Neves sued the state, the Oregon Youth Authority, his boss, the superintendent of the facility and three other employees. He requests a jury trial and $935,000 in damages for:
- Economic damages for past and future lost wages and employment benefits, impairment of earning ability, and medical costs
- Noneconomic damages like emotional distress, humiliation, pain and suffering, and others
He asks for legal fees, costs and interest, that all negative information be removed from his employment file and that the court order the employer to cease discriminatory conduct and establish practices to “eradicate the effects of past and present unlawful employment practices.”
In his complaint, Neves says that he was never disciplined at work. In fact, he received recognition and a major award for his work with the youth on the job. He asserts that his termination constituted illegal retaliation and discrimination against him under state law because he had reported the asbestos exposure to authorities.
He also asserts that his boss aided and abetted in the discrimination and sues the defendants for negligence under state common law for allowing his unprotected exposure to asbestos.
(The complaint is available on Westlaw at 2018 WL 1009212.)