A ruling in a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by the U.S. Labor Department found that the leader of a southern California cement workers union and an attorney for the organization’s trust funds retaliated against two employees who questioned the labor official’s financial practices, reported the Los Angeles Times. The federal court ordered Scott Brain, who heads the Cement Masons Union Local 600, and attorney Melissa Cook permanently barred from any position with the trust funds, which pay for retirement and other benefits for the labor group’s members.

The department alleged that Brain and Cook orchestrated the firing of the trusts’ audit director, Cheryle Robbins, because she complained about Brain’s handling of the funds and cooperated in a long-running criminal investigation of him. The agency also accused Brain and Cook of having the second employee, Cory Rice, fired because he made similar complaints.

“The court’s order should send a clear message that the department will not tolerate retaliation against whistle-blowers,” said Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi.

“Law enforcement depends upon witnesses feeling safe and protected to report violations to the government and to internal decision-makers.”

An attorney for Brain said his client, who remains business manager of Local 600, did nothing wrong and would appeal the court’s decision. The criminal inquiry into Brain is ongoing, a Labor Department official said. No charges have been filed.

The court ordered Cook and her firm to return to the trust funds about $61,000 in legal fees that were paid during the episodes involving Robbins and Rice.

Danielle L. Jaberg, a Labor Department attorney in the case, said the ruling “makes clear that people must be able to speak to the government and complain about any concerns they have with trust funds without fear.”

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