West Virginia Record

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Lone Star Western Beef responds to whistleblower lawsuit

By Kyla Asbury | Jun 5, 2017

CLARKSBURG – Lone Star Western Beef Inc. has responded to a lawsuit against it by the Department of Labor that alleges an employee was fired for calling 911 to help a co-worker who was injured in an accident at the plant.

In its answer to the complaint, Lone Star – which makes beef jerky – claims that when John M. Bachman arrived at the location where the co-worker with the severed thumb was, he promptly arranged for the employee to be taken to Whitehall Medical Clinic.

“He further informed Ms. Butler-Savage that the co-worker would be taken for medical treatment directly and that a call to 911 should not be made by her,” the May 26 answer states.

The answer states that it is affirmatively denied that there was any “lack of appropriate personal protective equipment” or any other wrongdoing or misconduct on the part of the defendants and that Bachman was unaware that Michele Butler-Savage had had any contact with a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, if said contact did occur.

Lone Star discharged Butler-Savage on July 9, 2014, solely due to her poor work performance, according to the answer.

Thomas E. Perez, the Secretary of Labor for the U.S. Department of Labor, filed the lawsuit on Jan. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia against Lone Star and Bachman, the president and owner of Lone Star.

On March 18, 2014, the defendant hired Butler-Savage as a food processor at the facility and, on July 7, 2014, about 20 minutes into Butler-Savage’s shift, she heard a co-worker, Chris Crane, exclaim that he had cut his finger.

The DOL claims Butler-Savage saw blood running down Crane’s hand and arm and believed he had sustained a serious injury. She went to assist Crane while another employee went to get Bachman.

Butler-Savage put Crane’s hand under cold water and tried to slow the bleeding with paper towels, according to the suit. She then told Crane that she needed to call 911 and used her personal cell phone to call.

At some point before the call went through, Bachman arrived and told Butler-Savage not to call 911 and instructed her to hang up the phone, according to the suit.

The DOL claims Butler-Savage said that Crane needed an ambulance, to which Bachman responded that he would decide whether or not to call an ambulance and instructed her to get back to work.

At the time he cut his finger, Crane was operating a band saw to cut beef as part of the manufacturing process and the blade of the band saw had severed a piece of his right thumb, according to the suit.

The plaintiff claims that after instructing Butler-Savage to hang up the phone, Bachman collected the severed piece of Crane’s thumb and had a supervisor, Kay Davis, drive him to Whitehill Medical, an urgent care clinic.

Crane was ultimately transferred to a hospital emergency room in an ambulance and the emergency room was unable to reattach the severed portion of his thumb.

Butler-Savage observed that Bachman did little to clean or sanitize the areas where Crane’s blood had spurted all over the floor and wall in his work area and on the floor and sink in the processing area and all he did was discard the piece of meat that Crane had been cutting when he was injured, but not the rest of the meat present in the area where he had been bleeding.

The areas where Crane bled were not sanitized until production was finished for the day, according to the suit.

At approximately 3 p.m. that day, Butler-Savage discussed her concerns about the accident, the cleanup and the lack of appropriate personal protective equipment with a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector and also told the inspector that she had tried to call 911, according to the suit.

Two days later, Bachman fired Butler-Savage, and while he initially told her that production was slow, he further complained about lawsuits pending against him and that there were too many government rules to follow and that the government always had its hand in his business, according to the suit.

The plaintiff claims the following day, Butler-Savage filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging she was discriminated against by the defendants.

The plaintiff is seeking that Lone Star and Bachman pay damages to her for lost wages, as well as punitive damages. The DOL is represented by M. Patricia Smith, Oscar L. Hampton III and Jordana L. Greenwald of the U.S. Department of Labor; and Betsy Steinfeld Jividen and Helen Campbell Altmeyer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The defendants are represented by John R. Callcott of Steptoe & Johnson.

The case is assigned to District Judge Irene Keeley.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 1:17-cv-00003

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Organizations in this Story

Steptoe & Johnson PLLC Steptoe and Johnson LLP U.S. Department of Labor U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia Clarksburg