Dearborn Heights School District Officials Focus of Federal Lawsuit

Although Dearborn Heights school officials admitted to mistakenly using electric sanders on vinyl tiles, they denied allegations of any asbestos violations or cover-ups. However, a recent federal lawsuit has shed light on the fact that the school district did in fact have previous run-ins with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) for asbestos violations related to the tile work.

School officials insisted that MIOSHA had checked both Annapolis High School and Madison Elementary School for any asbestos violations after Ms. Theresa Ely, a custodian working for the district, complained about having to sand floor tiles and warned her co-workers of the potential health hazards involved with the task. Sanding the floors produced a dust, and no preventative measures had been taken to protect the students or faculty from inhaling the harmful fibers. Ms. Ely described the scene as looking like a “flour fight,” adding, “[The dust] was in your eyelashes; it was gritty on your teeth.”

According to Dearborn Heights school officials, Ms. Ely had cried wolf; there was no contamination or health threat. The district moved forward with disciplining the custodian, claiming MIOSHA investigators had found no asbestos present at either of the schools. But this explanation contradicted records showing that MIOSHA had actually fined the district $27,000 in 2013 for “serious” health and safety violations at both sites.

In a separate complaint with MIOSHA, Ms. Ely alleged that she was laid off for the summer of 2013 as retaliation for her attempt to ensure a healthy work environment. “I’ve never seen the length that this district has gone to cover this up, from falsifying asbestos reports to issuing gag orders to employees to not talk about an item that has grave health concerns,” said Ms. Ely’s attorney, Mr. Robert Fetter.

The federal lawsuit that exposed the district’s past violations involves an Annapolis High School kitchen employee who died of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos.

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