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Sonoma State University asbestos lawsuit trial begins

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Testimony began Wednesday in the case of a former Sonoma State University employee who claims he was forced to quit his job after reporting the school’s mishandling of asbestos and lead, including one incident in which a custodian was ordered to remove contaminants from a campus rooftop with a leaf blower.
Thomas R. Sargent, 48, of Santa Rosa, seeks $15 million in damages in a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that retaliation from top-ranking officials ended his 24-year career at the Rohnert Park institution. The school denies his claims.
In opening statements, his lawyer said trouble started in 2012 when Sargent, the school’s environmental health and safety inspector, discovered a chalky substance atop the three-story physical education building.
When he reported it to his boss, department director Craig Dawson, a decision was made to apply a coating to the roof to seal it off.But before that could happen, the roof had to be cleaned of the substance, determined to be lead. Dawson balked at Sargent’s suggestion to hire a private contractor to do the work and instead ordered a maintenance worker to disperse it with a leaf blower, said attorney Dustin Collier.
“All while the children’s day care center was operating nearby,” Collier told the seven-man, five-woman jury.After Sargent reported the incident to state and local officials, he received his first negative employee evaluation in an otherwise spotless tenure, his lawyer said.
Tensions grew a year later when he reported asbestos dust, believed to be from decades-old ceiling and floor tiles, collecting inside Stevenson Hall, the main faculty office building. Sargent was further reprimanded after informing state workplace safety regulators at Cal/OSHA and later received a temporary suspension, Collier said.
Read more at: Sonoma State University asbestos lawsuit trial begins | The Press Democrat