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Whirlpool Corp. v. Marshall

United States Supreme Court
445 U.S. 1 (1980)


Whirlpool Corporation (Whirlpool) (defendant) was a producer of household appliances. At its manufacturing plant in Ohio, Whirlpool installed an overhead conveyor to transport appliance components throughout the plant. In order to protect employees from components falling from the conveyor, Whirlpool installed a wire-mesh guard screen that was 20 feet above the plant floor. Maintenance employees stood on iron frames along the plant walls to remove objects from the screen and perform maintenance work on the conveyors. At times, the maintenance employees needed to step onto the screen to perform their duties. In 1973, several employees fell through the screen. In response, Whirlpool began installing a stronger screen. However, on June 28, 1974, a maintenance employee fell through a portion of the old screen and died. On July 7, 1974, Virgil Deemer and Thomas Cornwell, two of Whirlpool’s maintenance employees, complained to Whirlpool about the safety conditions at the plant. The next day, Deemer and Cornwell were instructed to perform maintenance on a section of the old screen. Deemer and Cornwell refused due to safety concerns and were issued written reprimands and ordered to leave work without payment. U.S. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall (Secretary) (plaintiff) sued Whirlpool in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleging that Whirlpool had discriminated against Deemer and Cornwell in violation of the Secretary’s regulation interpreting the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Act), 29 U.S.C. §§ 651-78. The district court denied relief, finding that the regulation upon which the Secretary relied was invalid because the regulation was inconsistent with the Act. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. Whirlpool appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Stewart, J.)

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