Former Dollar Tree employee sues for violation of FMLA

Dollar Tree Inc. fired a Merrimack man who managed some 16 stores in New England partly in retaliation for trying to protect the public from Chinese merchandise contaminated with heavy metals like lead, according to a lawsuit that moved to federal court last week.Marc A. Fournier, who worked at Dollar Tree stores since 2001, alleges higher officials in the national chain asked him to take down warning signs saying that some of the items – including dinnerware – were so highly contaminated with lead that they were not fit to be used with food. Fournier said he put the signs back up after the officials left.These items were on the company’s “pull and hold” orders because of dangerous chemicals and lead paint. Other items also included “hair clips, rings, glasses, brushes, hair ties.”The company has not responded to allegations in court nor has it returned phone calls to NHBR by deadline.Dollar Tree has filed a motion to seal that list in federal court, a motion that Fournier’s attorney – former Supreme Court Judge Chuck Douglas – opposed.”We don’t agree it should be sealed. That is not in the public interest,” said Douglas.Fournier also charged that he was ordered to take down items in Brattelboro that the Vermont attorney general’s office was examining and put them back up on the shelves a few weeks later.In February, the Vermont attorney general’s office fined Dollar Tree $100,000, charging that some of the products contained led concentrations ranging from 165 to 16,000 times the current legal limit in four products: earrings, a necklace, a digital watch and a pony-tail holder. The products also had high levels of cadmium.In addition, Dollar Tree is the subject of numerous recall notices from the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.In March 2006, for instance, the commission announced that Dollar Tree was voluntarily complying with the recall of 580,000 items of toy jewelry – including mood necklaces and rings and glow-in-the-dark necklaces and rings. And in December 2007, the chain agreed to recall 300,000 toys – Baby Bead & Wire toys and Speed Racer Pull Back and Go action cars – again because of lead contamination.In the lawsuit, Fournier said that he repeated conversations about the “unsafe nature of certain products from China” with those above him, which “created an atmosphere of tension” and work-related stress that continued in the fall of 2009, causing him to lose 17 pounds in the fall and winter of 2009 and 2010.In January 2010 he applied for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but on Jan. 30, he said his regional manager insisted he come back to work and refused to see his FMLA paperwork.On Feb. 16 he was let go, according to the law suit.The suit alleged that the company violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it also claimed that he was fired “with bad faith and malice, and in retaliation against him for performing acts encouraged by public policy, such as attempting to reduce adverse health risks caused by certain cheap Chinese products.”Dollar Tree (DLTR) had sales of $1.35 billion in the quarter ending May 1, according to public filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It posted net income of $63 million, and total assets of $2.14 billion. – BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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