A Texas Porsche dealership employee who said he was fired after warning co-workers of a case of COVID-19 at the store in 2020 has received his job back, more than $100,000 in back pay and $15,000 in compensatory damages.
A settlement agreement was filed March 20 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas that says the employee, Michael Pacho, is unconditionally reinstated at Porsche South Austin.
The U.S. Department of Labor filed the federal lawsuit in October 2021 against Hi Tech Imports after an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation determined the dealership violated the OSHA Act of 1970. OSHA law states employers can’t punish workers for raising a health or safety concern with their employers, among other protections.
In December 2020, Pacho learned a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19 and asked Hi Tech Motorcars management to warn other employees. When they didn’t, he emailed all employees himself, according to court documents.
“It has come to my attention that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19. I feel it is important to inform all employees of the current situation,” Pacho wrote in the email. Pacho was told “his only job was to fix cars,” according to the complaint.
The employee was fired within an hour, the complaint said.
As part of the settlement, Hi Tech Imports denied the allegations and agreed to a consent judgment “without admitting any violations of the act,” according to the judgment and order filed March 21.
The dealership also is required to post an “OSHA Facts: Know Your Rights as a Whistleblower” sheet on a bulletin board or in a memo.
A settlement agreement filed by the National Labor Relations Board on Aug. 8, 2022, stipulated Hi Tech Motorcars give Pacho more than $101,000 in back pay, interest and expenses. Hi Tech Motorcars also was required to sign an apology letter to Pacho.
“We will help you have a positive experience when you return to work for us,” the letter read.
The settlement in the federal lawsuit supports federal whistleblower protections enforced by OSHA. The administration’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces more than 20 statutes that protect employees from retaliation if they report workplace violations.
Hi Tech Imports is part of Hi Tech Motorcars, which sells eight luxury brands across dealerships in Austin. Hi Tech Motorcars did not respond to a request for comment.