Must an employer ensure that the air in the workplace is smoke-free? That’s one of the questions that might be answered if a new lawsuit brought by the mother of a Harrah’s employee has her way.

Her son died a year ago of cancer after working at Harrah’s New Orleans casino and resort for 15 years. The facility is owned by Harrah’s, headquartered in Las Vegas.

The federal litigation charges Harrah’s with “failing to provide a safe workplace.”

The judge in the case will next decide if the lawsuit qualifies for class action status. If it does, it could affect more than a thousand current and former workers at the casino.

The mother of the cancer victim alleges in her suit that her son’s fatal “cancer is directly linked to the long-term, second-hand smoke exposure that he suffered as an employee of Harrah’s.”

A law professor at Tulane University interviewed for the report by a Louisiana TV station said it’s obvious that Louisiana employers must provide a safe workplace, but it’s not nearly as clear that that means employers must banish smoke from the premises.

Harrah’s New Orleans has been open for 11 years. During that time, the facility instituted some restrictions on smoking, the lawsuit acknowledges, but they were safety measures that amounted to too little, too late for its deceased employee at the center of the suit.

Patrons of the casino expressed support for a smoking ban, or at least separate smoking facilities within the confines of the facility. But of course, the legal questions won’t be answered and the disputes solved by polling patrons. That will be left to a federal judge.

Resource: Fox 8: “Harrah’s faces potential class action lawsuit over secondhand smoke exposure”: March 11, 2011