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U.S. Labor Dept. sues Niagara Falls contractor over firing of demolition worker

The U.S. Labor Department has sued a Niagara Falls contractor, accusing the company of firing a worker in retaliation for raising safety concerns about a Buffalo demolition site.

The agency filed its lawsuit in federal court in Buffalo against Regional Environmental Demolition and its executives, Charles Van Epps and Enrico Liberale.

The suit centers on allegations by a demolition and asbestos-abatement laborer, identified in court documents as Lucian Fermo, who worked at a demolition site at various times at 527 W. Utica St. from April 2014 to June 2014.

The suit contends that Fermo found weakened or deteriorated sections of floor called “soft spots” while working there in April 2014. At one such spot, he says, his foot fell through the floor.

Court documents say Fermo told his superiors about the hazard “multiple times” and was fired in June 2014 after the agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration contacted the employer to follow up on an anonymous complaint. The suit says Fermo filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, which investigated and found that his complaint had merit.

However, Regional Environmental Demolition refused to rehire Fermo or compensate him for the time he would have continued to work for the company, the suit says.

In an interview, Van Epps disputed Fermo’s version of events, contending that Fermo actually quit his job, and was not fired as retaliation.

Van Epps said the lawsuit will be difficult for his company regardless of the outcome, due to the legal expenses involved.

“I think it’s hard enough to do work in New York State, trying to survive,” he said. “It’s just a financial battle, and we’re a little company.”

The suit contends that Fermo was retaliated against, and seeks payment to him for lost wages and compensatory damages, interest, front pay, emotional and financial-distress damages, and punitive damages. The suit does not place a dollar value on those categories. Additionally, the suit seeks to have all references to the matter expunged from Fermo’s personnel records, but it does not seek his reinstatement.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com