NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The federal government is suing a Bronx salon after a whistleblower employee was fired after trying to warn coworkers about a health hazard.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, Yonkers mom Valerie Connolly said she began experiencing serious health issues, at first unexplainable by doctors.
“Problems breathing. I was bringing my son into school one day, and I could barely make it to the door,” Connolly said. “I never had asthma before.”
With no answers, she started to look into products used at Salon Zoe on Riverdale Avenue, where she was an office manager.
Connolly worked at the salon for more than seven years. She claims she was fired after warning workers of a potentially dangerous treatment of hair straightening.
Connolly discovered that the salon used a product called Magic Keratina, containing formaldehyde. She was so concerned she handed out information warning coworkers.
“Just explaining to them what exactly it (formaldehyde) was and how dangerous it was,” she said.
She was fired days later on June 30, 2012.
“She believed there was a health hazard. She complained about it, and she was fired because she complained,” said Elena Goldstein, senior trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor. “No worker should be fired because they complain about dangerous conditions on the job.”
As a result, the Labor Department is suing Salon Zoe and its owner, Kristina Veljovic, for discrimination.
The salon’s owner would not speak to CBS2 on camera. Her lawyer said there is no merit to the claim.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says some levels of formaldehyde are acceptable. But OSHA did cite Salon Zoe in 2012 for not training employees about formaldehyde and other hazardous chemicals.
As for salon-goers, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is pushing for legislation for a consumer bill of rights.
“The consumer should know exactly what they’re paying for,” Diaz said.
Connolly’s doctors later confirmed that formaldehyde was the cause of her symptoms. Since being away from the salon, they have subsided.
The attorney general is now looking into the distributor and the product used by Salon Zoe, Magic Keratina, and whether the label matched the level of formaldehyde tested.