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Sonoma State University Loses Asbestos Case, Must Pay Workers, Regulators $2.9 Million

Sonoma State University has been ordered to pay more than $2.9 million in penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws. A portion of the penalties will be split between workers who may have been exposed to asbestos in the school’s very first building. Named after 1960 presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, historic Stevenson Hall is located in the center of campus and houses more than 100 departments.

During a two-year period ending in 2015, 231 faculty members and staff worked in the building where the school’s campus environmental health and safety specialist raised concerns about worn or crumbling floor and ceiling tiles that were releasing carcinogenic asbestos fibers. In a separate lawsuit, the safety specialist claimed that his superiors and the California State University Board of Trustees took insufficient steps to remedy the situation and that they created a hostile working environment, which left him no choice but to quit.

In that case, the safety specialist was awarded $387,895 by a jury that found both his immediate supervisor and the California State University Board of Trustees liable. As part of the order, the plaintiff was reinstated to his position as campus environmental health and safety specialist, where he had served for 24 years.

Prompted by the specialist and his case, a full investigation into the handling of asbestos at Sonoma State was launched, leading to the $2.9 judgement against the school. Of the $2.9 million, around $725,000 will be dispersed among the 231 administrative assistants, teachers, and other university employees who worked in Stevenson Hall from May 2013 to March 2015. The rest will go to state workplace enforcement and training regulators.

Sonoma State has lost much more than $2.9 million and the school could end up losing even more. The University spent around $3.5 million to take the case to trial and more cases are likely to follow, as Stevenson Hall isn’t the only building on campus with an asbestos problem. The campus environmental health and safety specialist also warned his superiors and officials about other campus buildings that are deteriorating and releasing asbestos fibers.

President of the CSU employees union at Sonoma State hopes that the cases and penalties will “prompt schools throughout the 23-campus system to reevaluate their handling of asbestos,” reports the Press Democrat. “We would like to see a better response from the university instead of denial and shutting us out,” she said. “They need to open doors and welcome change in these old buildings.”

 

Sources

Payne, Paul. "Sonoma State University to Pay $2.9 Million in Asbestos Case." Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The Press Democrat, 26 Sept. 2017. Web. 04 Oct. 2017.