Labor Dept. sues luxury dealership group for firing employee who sounded COVID-19 alarm

The U.S. Department of Labor is suing a luxury dealership group in Austin, Texas, for firing an employee who told his co-workers they potentially had been exposed to COVID-19.

When the employee learned in December 2020 that a co-worker had tested positive for COVID-19, he asked Hi Tech Motorcars management to warn other employees, then emailed them all himself when management did not do so, according to the lawsuit. Hi Tech Motorcars fired the employee within an hour, the complaint said.

The matter was investigated early this year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That investigation determined the dealership violated Section 1 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

“This employee acted out of real concern for their safety and that of their coworkers, and their actions are protected under federal law,” Labor Department Regional Solicitor John Rainwater said in a news release. “The law also protects whistleblowers from retaliation by their employer and holds employers accountable when they do.”

An attorney representing Hi Tech Motorcars did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Labor Department wants the employee reinstated, reimbursed for costs and expenses, reimbursed for lost wages and benefits, and paid damages, according to the suit it filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

Hi Tech Motorcars has seven luxury car stores in Austin.

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