Beef-jerky plant employee fired after call to 911 over severed thumb

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The owner of a now-closed beef-jerky maker is being sued by the federal government for firing an employee who tried to call 911 to help a co-worker with a severed thumb.

John M. Bachman, who owned the Lone Star Western Beef plant in Fairmont, could be forced to pay back wages and punitive damages to the employee as a result of the lawsuit, which the U.S. Labor Department filed Thursday against him and his company in federal court in Clarksburg.

The lawsuit said that when a band saw severed part of a worker’s right thumb in July 2014, his co-worker applied pressure to the wound while using her cell phone to call 911. But before responders could answer, Bachman allegedly ordered her to hang up, and she was fired two days later.

Instead of calling an ambulance, Bachman collected the severed part of Chris Crane’s thumb and told a supervisor to take him to an urgent care clinic. Crane was ultimately transferred to a hospital, where efforts to reattach the thumb were unsuccessful, the lawsuit said.

The co-worker, Michele Butler-Savage, told a U.S. agriculture inspector later that day that Bachman did not fully clean or sanitize the area of the plant where the accident happened. She also mentioned a lack of personal protective equipment. After she was fired, she filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which found the company violated federal whistleblower protections for workers who report violations of the law.

OSHA regional administrator Richard Mendelson said Butler-Savage’s effort to show “basic human decency” was protected under federal safety and health laws.

“Lone Star Western Beef punished an employee for seeking emergency medical care for a seriously injured co-worker,” Mendelson said. “No worker should have to fear retaliation from their employer for calling 911 in an emergency, or taking other action to report a workplace safety or health incident.”

Bachman didn’t immediately return a message left at a telephone number listed on the company’s website. In January 2015, the plant closed and relocated to Reading, Pennsylvania, the Labor Department said.