PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A $40 million lawsuit alleges that a Portland property management company tried to cover up that asbestos was found during a renovation, putting employees’ and residents’ health at risk. 

Asbestos is a fiber known to cause cancer; it was commonly used in building materials before it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989.  

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Multnomah County Circuit Court, claims that asbestos was found during a renovation project at the Commons at Sylvan Highlands complex in May 2018. The luxury apartment complex is managed by Tandem Property Management.  

According to the complaint, the renovations team stopped work and reported their concerns about the asbestos to Tandem’s leadership. Tandem president Thomas Cleary reportedly came to the site and “was furious.” 

“Mr. Cleary was emphatic, yell that there was no asbestos and that they all needed to get back to work,” the lawsuit said.  

One month later, Khataun Thompson, one of the two plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, was assigned to work at Commons at Sylvan Highlands. The lawsuit says Thompson did not know asbestos was suspected to be present at the site. 

Thompson and his team reportedly discovered what appeared to be asbestos on June 28, 2018, and reported it to manager Tanya Tiedemann, who said she would call Cleary for instructions.  

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says a renovations team member took a sample from the site for asbestos testing. A copy of that test, viewed by KOIN 6 News, shows that asbestos was found in the drywall. Tiedemann was reportedly given the results of the asbestos testing, as well. 

Ten days after Tiedemann was notified of the asbestos results, Thompson said he was notified his job was terminated. 

“They told me, ‘We are an at-will employer. We don’t have to disclose why we’re ending our working relationship with you,’” Thompson said. 

Thompson’s fiancee, Alyssa DeWeese, also worked for Tandem. She said she was similarly fired a week and a half later. The lawsuit says that Tandem management requested that “Ms. DeWeese help Tandem engage in apparent intimidation and retaliation against an employee aware of the asbestos test result,” which DeWeese refused to do. 

Both Thompson and DeWeese believe they were fired because of their knowledge of the asbestos found at Commons at Sylvan Highlands. Thompson filed two complaints with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, which were received by the agency on August 6. BOLI said the complaints are still under investigation. 

“I believe they were in fear for their own company and the possibility of me letting others know about the asbestos and what all was happening,” DeWeese said.  

Attorney Michael Fuller, who is representing Thompson and DeWeese, called Tandem’s actions a conspiracy. 

“We believe from the highest levels, Tandem executives conspired to hide asbestos in the building – hide it from residents, employees, from the government,” Fuller said. “And they were willing to fire at least a handful of people [that] we’re aware of, in order to do that.” 

Fuller said a private investigator has also found that the company transported materials containing asbestos through common areas of the apartment complex. Fuller said Tandem also moved materials from a property in Multnomah County to one in Washington County, where there would be fewer regulations around the disposal of materials. 

Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) confirmed that it has an active inspection into Tandem Property Management. Given the active nature, OSHA spokesperson Aaron Corvin said further details could not be shared. 

KOIN 6 News has made several attempts to contact senior management at Tandem Property Management, including Clarey. There has been no response from Tandem at the time of publication.