Handyman Robert Petersen recently filed a lawsuit after he worked a job where a ceiling full of rats and feces fell on him.
Robert Petersen, a Lower East Side handyman, is suing his former employer, Exact Builders Group LLC, after he was allegedly fired for filing a workplace-safety complaint when he fell ill on the job. According to the complaint he filed, Petersen became ill when he was working when a “ceiling full of rats collapsed on him, raining down rodents and feces because his bosses skimped on safety gear.”
In Petersen’s lawsuit, he said he was given the task of “installing a new wall at a West 147th Street building on Aug. 20 that involved cleaning up rat droppings, so he asked for goggles, gloves and a special mask.” However, his boss, Crystall Fernandez responded by saying, “Don’t be a baby, just get it done…do what you need to do.” She then allegedly sent him to a store that did not carry Occupational Safety and Health Administration-approved gear.
When commenting on the incident and his boss’s instructions, Petersen said:
“She made it sound like either do the work or I was going to get fired…I was cleaning up rat feces and rat urine on soaked pieces of insulation. There were dead rats and there were [live rats] running all around me. They were trying to come out when I was trying to plaster it.”
The project itself took about 16 hours to finish over the span of two days. When it was completed, he was “called to another job to repair a leaking hole in a ceiling.” Once again when he arrived he discovered the ceiling was “infested with rats and he wasn’t given proper gear.” Unlike the first job, he had to actually put his head into a hole to “see inside the ceiling and the rats were running around his head.” When describing his ordeal at the second job, Petersen said that as he was pulling down wet ceiling boards, “the whole thing came down on me — rats, feces, you name it…You cringe. I don’t like rats, mice, I don’t like any kind of rodents. I was disgusted. You feel grossed out. You are itching and scratching.”
Shortly afterward, itchy welts began appearing on his arms and face and he began vomiting. Eventually, he became so ill that he was “forced to miss a week of work and check himself into the hospital on Aug. 22.” Around the same time, “Fernandez threatened to fire him,” according to court documents.
As a result, Petersen filed his complaint with OSHA over the unhygienic conditions he was forced to work in. Then, when he returned to work on September 3, he was allegedly “given a task above his pay grade, so he asked for a written order, which Fernandez refused to give him,” according to his suit. Ten days later, Petersen was fired after he was allegedly told “it was not going to work out.” The suit further states:
“Upon information and belief, Mr. Petersen’s termination was in direct retaliation for disclosing the Defendant’s violations to OSHA, the DOH [Department of Health] and the DOL [Department of Labor].”