D7 janitor awarded $193,000 for asbestos exposure

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Dearborn Heights District 7 janitor Theresa Ely was granted $193,000 in lost wages and damages by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration after she was exposed to asbestos.

She was awarded $45,000 for past and future medical bills, $105,000 for emotional distress and $35,000 for loss of her reputation and humiliation from the district. Another $8,139 was given to Ely for lost wages.

The initial incident occurred in the summer of 2012 at Annapolis High School, 4650 Clippert, when she and another janitor, Rob Smith, were asked to dry sand floor tiles. Both janitors discovered that they had been exposed to asbestos through cleaning the tiles.

Ely and Smith said they hadn’t received proper training from the district on how to remove the asbestos, which can cause lung disease and cancer, among other health issues.

Proper procedures would include wearing protective clothing and respirators and disposing of the asbestos material in airtight contains so it does not spread.

In 2012, Ely and Smith were assigned to help with the rewaxing of the floors.

Ely was told to dry sand the floor tiles instead of clean with water and scrubbers to save time. Smith had the assignment to gather all the dust from the sanding with a leaf blower, place them into 30 garbage bags and place them in a trash bin.

In the U.S. Department of Labor OSHA findings, it states that multiple janitors assigned to the project complained about the possibility of asbestos in the tiles, but were still not given training.

A test done with a sample of dust from the sanding of the tiles was found to be falsified by the district because the undated report had no sampling numbers.

In 2013, Ely was laid off from her position, did not receive a yearly raise and was denied a request for an earlier schedule.

From November 2013 to January 2014, Ely received short pay over five different pay periods for a total of 29 hours worked but not paid.

Ely told the Detroit Free Press she felt vindicated by the decision after almost four years battling the asbestos complaint.

The district has 30 days to appeal the decision and findings to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Calls made to the district and Supt. John Frazer were not returned by press time.

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)