After four days of deliberation, Sonoma County, California, jurors found in favor of a Sonoma State University employee who maintained he was fired from his position after raising concerns about the school’s handling of environmental hazards like lead and asbestos, according to The Press Democrat.
MyMeso previously reported that as the school’s former environmental health and safety inspector, Thomas R. Sargent, 48, raised concerns over how the school ordered employees to blow lead off of a roof with a leaf blower and contacted environmental authorities when asbestos dust was found in the main faculty office building. For those actions, he claims he faced retaliation at work and eventually felt he had to quit in July 2015 after 24 years with the school.
“He did the right thing, and now they’re persecuting him,” Sargent’s attorney Dustin Collier said during closing statements, according to a prior Press Democrat article. “He risked everything he had and lost. Again, some might say that’s foolish, but it’s also incredibly courageous.”
The jury awarded Sargent $387,895 in lost compensation and damages, including mental suffering and emotional distress, and found both Sargent’s immediate superior, Craig Dawson, and the California State University Board of Trustees liable in the case, according to the news source. His lawyer said the jury’s findings in Sargent’s case could allow the judge to award up to $2.9 million in additional damages to 231 university employees assigned to work at the building at the center of the case based on a section of the California Labor Code, which “allows aggrieved employees to recover civil damages on behalf of themselves, their co-workers and state occupational safety enforcement agencies,” according to The Press Democrat.
The jury found evidence of seven of the 16 Occupational Safety and Health Administration claims in the suit.