ST. LOUIS (CN) - A St. Louis County jury awarded $3.67 million to a former safety inspector for Laclede Gas who claimed he was fired for reporting safety concerns.
Thomas White had worked for Laclede for 21 years until he was fired on April 1, 2010, accused of stealing cement blocks for personal use, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
White claimed in his lawsuit that he was actually fired for investigating safety hazards with the cement and for reporting co-workers who were digging at sites without making legally required calls to locate underground utility lines.
White began complaining of Laclede's digging practices in late 2008. His attorney, Brandy Barth, told the Post-Dispatch that a supervisor told White to "back off" and that another supervisor said he would lose his job if he continued to make complaints.
Laclede claimed that White's firing had nothing to do with his digging complaints, and that his firing came nine months later.
But attorney Barth said that in December 2009 White went to Laclede's chemical lab and raised concerns about the cement, but was told the supervisor was out. White claimed he was provided four cans of cement and put it in his company-owned car.
Laclede argued that White never reported any safety issues with the cement prior to Spring 2010 and was fired when a supervisor inquired about the missing cement cans and found out that they were in White's trunk. But Barth told the Post-Dispatch that she produced witnesses who testified that safety concerns had been raised.
Jenny Gobble, a spokeswoman for the Laclede Group, told the Post-Dispatch the company plans to appeal.
"We are disappointed and frankly shocked by the jury's decision given the facts and evidence in this case," Laclede said.
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