When Katrina Bryant took a job at a construction site in Eastern Oregon in April, she expected her main duty to be making the job site safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bryant was hired by Gray’s Construction, through a temp agency, to monitor employees as they entered the construction site for a new Amazon warehouse in Boardman, Oregon.
“Due to the circumstances of the pandemic, my sole duty was to ensure we are following protocols and procedures,” Bryant recently told the Mercury, “including the temperature-taking and mask-wearing of the employees.”
The temperature-checking policy came directly from Amazon, Bryant said, and was also in accordance with best practices put forward by the state of Oregon. But it only took a few days for Bryant to realize that her superiors at Gray’s Construction didn’t actually want her to enforce the policy, which prohibited employees from entering the jobsite if they had a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. According to a lawsuit she recently filed against Gray’s Construction, Bryant was “directed to manipulate the readings” when a thermometer showed 100.4 or above.
“Employees with temperatures over 100.4°F were instructed to manipulate their readings,” the complaint continues, “by placing cold drinks on their foreheads and by rolling down the windows in their cars and by turning on the air conditioning, so they would be allowed to enter the construction site, in violation of the rules."
Bryant told the Mercury that for her, these practices were “sham procedures that put people at risk," so she brought up her concerns with a manager on May 13.
Three days later, Bryant was fired. The only reason given for her termination was that the company wanted to “go in a different direction,” according to the lawsuit.
Bryant’s lawsuit alleges that Gray’s Construction broke Oregon law by retaliating against a whistleblower, and seeks a jury trial and up to $950,000 in damages for Bryant. It was originally filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, but later moved to the Oregon United States District Court, because Gray’s Construction is based out of state.
“People were coming to work, people who every day are making sacrifices that impact our life,” Bryant said about the position Gray’s Construction put her in. “The communities and families of these workers are trusting that safety procedures are put in place… They owe them better than that.”
“I just wanted to do my part in at least being honest and drawing the attention, so people can be aware,” she added. “When things like this are happening, I think it’s important people speak out.”
In a statement sent to the Mercury, Gray’s Construction spokesperson Jill Wilson said Bryant’s allegations “have no merit.”
“The company has taken appropriate precautions during the pandemic to help protect everyone on our jobsites,” Wilson added.