A CASE OF THE VAPORS
The Team Leader in the area shut off the line and I immediately jumped on the line to see why the line had stopped. The Team Leader was already on the line and she was pregnant. She had exposed herself to the vapors from the paint booth. I went inside the paint booth and shut off the paint. I sent the Team Leader to the Medical Department and I paged the Maintenance Manager. I sent the workers from the line to the Rework area and I remained in the area.
Any time the line shut down, red lights were automatically turned on, which flashed in the VP's office. Soon the VP was standing beside me, wanting to know why the line was shut down. Maintenance fixed the problem with the paint booth and I made the decision to re-start the line. I remained in the area, waiting for the return of the Team Leader from the Medical Department.
Soon, I heard through the rumor mill that there were people who were upset because I had sent them to Rework, but had sent the Team Leader to the Medical Department. They were suggesting that I showed favoritism to the Team Leader and a lack of concern for them.
The following day four women from the line called in, each one claiming illness from being exposed to "paint fumes". As the Team Leader and I had been more exposed to the vapors than anyone and since neither of us had any apparent ill effects, I decided that there was no basis for the claims. All four women continued calling in and filed for Workers Compensation. The Company denied their claims. The case lasted for a lengthy period and during the time, the Team Leader delivered a healthy baby.
One of the women claimed that she was pregnant and the "paint fumes" had caused her to lose the baby by miscarriage. The other three women claimed total disability and that they were unable to perform any work, and including the lack of ability to have "companionship" with their spouses. One day a sister-in-law of the pregnant woman came to my office and said, "I think you should know that she had an abortion because she and her husband didn't want the baby, not because of the paint fumes."
Our Company attorney spent several days preparing the Team Leader and me for our testimonies. The four women had engaged an attorney to represent all of them. At the hearing, the attorney for the four women was questioning me about the "paint fumes" and I corrected him and said that they were "vapors, not fumes." In a smart-aleck tone, he asked, "Are you an expert?" I answered, "I know the difference between vapors and fumes; I breathed the vapors; I went inside the booth without any protection and shut off the paint and I am in perfect condition." I saw our attorney smiling.
Strangely, the attorney asked, "And were you dressed the way you are today?" Although baffled, I answered, "Yes, except that I was wearing safety shoes that day." He asked, with a note of incredulity, "You dress this way every day?" I answered, simply, "Yes." (I had been instructed to answer each question as simply as possible.) He asked, "Have you ever worn the outfit you're wearing today to work?" I answered, "Yes, four weeks ago." He said, "You have a very good memory; I don't think most people would remember what they wore a month ago." I said, "It was four weeks ago, not a month; that week was my blue and burgundy Aigner week." He asked, "And what were you wearing the day of the paint fumes?"
The remainder of my testimony with the opposing attorney was very brief. On his questioning our Company attorney asked, "It certainly is fascinating about your wardrobe; how is it that you keep track so well and exactly, what is an Aigner?" The opposing attorney objected, but he was overruled because he had started the questioning about my clothing. I answered, "Oh, I have my calendar right here which shows what I was wearing; Etienne Aigner is the designer." as I pointed to the blue "A" on my burgundy sweater I was wearing. I opened a folder which I had on my lap and produced the calendar which documented the date and time of the paint booth problem and also of my wardrobe! The attorney asked why I did this and I replied that pre-planning made it much easier getting ready in the morning and I wore the same color combination all week because I didn't want to be concerned about changing my accessories early in the mornings.
When our attorney questioned the first woman, she testified that the "paint fumes" had caused her to have a miscarriage. The attorney then supplied the date, time, and place where she had had an abortion performed. When confronted, she actually said that she was just so worried what might be wrong with the baby that she had to do it. Her case was dismissed.
When the films were shown of the two women that the P.I. had caught carrying heavy shopping bags and other activities which violated their restrictions, their cases were also dismissed. Although the P.I. was unable to find any similar evidence about the fourth woman, we believed that hers was not a legitimate claim. Her case was also dismissed because neither I nor the Team Leader had experienced any problems and we were more exposed than anyone else to the vapors.
I quickly heard how "horrible" the Company was for sending out a Private Investigator to "spy" on the women and, of course, they blamed me. There was an "anonymous" complaint filed with OSHA about the "paint fumes", naming me in particular. In the finding, the OSHA representative noted my "quick response" and "disregard for my personal safety" in jumping on the line and going into the paint booth to turn off the paint.
I have often wondered why the opposing attorney had opened the line of questioning about my wardrobe. The Company attorney said that he probably thought he could confuse me about specific times and dates and it had been brought up about my having paint stains on my clothing. I had my calendar with me just because of the documentation of the dates of the paint vapors incident, certainly never expecting that the documentation about my wardrobe would be beneficial to our case.