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Did Marriott knowingly expose unprotected workers to chemicals?

A group of hotel housekeepers in another state recently filed a purported class-action lawsuit against Marriott International, claiming the hotel chain willfully -- or even intentionally -- exposed them to toxic chemicals without training or personal protective equipment. That in itself is a big deal; the fine for violating federal hazardous workplace chemical regulations is $10,000 per day per worker exposed.

The workers suffered serious illnesses as a consequence, they claim. The lead plaintiff was diagnosed with "heart or respiratory consequences" and had to take medical leave for four months. 

There were seven hazardous chemicals the housekeepers were expected to use, but they were never told the chemicals could make them sick or given any training or personal protective equipment. If the housekeepers had been shown the federally-mandated warnings on some of those chemicals, they would have known to wear respirators and safety glasses -- and to wash their contaminated clothing before wearing it again.

Perhaps more alarming, however, the housekeepers allege that Marriott violated workplace safety laws in several other ways:

  • Marriott hid the hazardous chemical labels by having the chemicals transferred into blank bottles.
  • When some workers complained, Marriott forced them to sign liability waivers, often in English that they didn't understand, or be fired.
  • When the named plaintiffs complained, hotel management told them they had no legal rights.
  • The lead plaintiff was fired a day before she was to return to work from medical leave.

Federal law prohibits all of those activities, and you need to know it. Specifically, it's critical for you to know that both Pennsylvania and federal law prohibit retaliation of any kind against workers who make good-faith complaints about workplace safety, who suffer from disabilities, or who file workers' compensation claims.

Although this lawsuit was filed in another state, under virtually any state law these housekeepers would still be eligible for workers' comp even after having been fired.

The larger question, of course, is what will happen to Marriott if the housekeepers can prove their claims. According to Courthouse News Service, the statutory fines for violating federal workplace chemical regulations add up to $43.8 million in the lead plaintiff's case alone.

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