Food inspector claims retaliatory discharge in suit against NSF

Andrea Dearden Feb. 15, 2012, 1:32am


ST. LOUIS - A St. Louis man claims he was fired from his food safety inspection job after he complained about a supervisor who allegedly asked him to violate the law and devalue the company's standards.

Thomas W. Cooney filed a lawsuit Jan. 23 in St. Louis Circuit Court against NSF International.

Cooney, with a master's degree in biology, says he worked for NSF International from 2002 to 2008 as a food safety specialist and from 2008 to 2010 as a senior auditor.

The company certifies food products and writes standards to protect food, water and consumer goods, according to the court records. Cooney says his job was to inspect facilities, make sure they complied with the NSF standard and allow or disallow the use of the NSF mark of approval.

According to the complaint, Cooney was sent to Canada to conduct audits of NSF clients in June 2009. Cooney claims he was detained by Canadian immigration officials and told he would need work permits to continue. When he told his supervisor, Angela Garner, what was required Cooney says she asked him to lie to the immigration officials about why he was visiting the country. He says he was told by Garner, at the risk of his job, to continue inspecting the Canadian clients without the proper authorization.

Cooney claims he later told Garner about safety issues in some of the facilities he was inspecting in August 2009. He says his supervisor asked him to allow those products to bear the NSF seal despite failing to meet the company's standards. In February 2010, Cooney says he received poor scores on his employee evaluation from Garner because he drew attention to the violations he was allegedly asked to overlook in both Canadian and American facilities.

Cooney says he alerted other supervisors of what he was asked to do and how he was asked to do it in February 2010. He says he was then fired from the company in March 2010. Cooney claims he was dismissed for being a whistleblower.

Cooney is asking to be paid more than $75,000 in damages for loss of income and court fees. Attorney James O. Hacking III of St. Louis is representing Cooney. They ask for a jury trial.

St. Louis Circuit Court Case No. 1222-CC00401

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