Man seeks $5M from BP for firing

Contractor employee claims company retaliated for reporting safety violations

A local man who says he was falsely accused of drinking on the job and then fired after reporting safety violations is suing BP for more than $5 million in damages.

Larry Holland, an employee of Grand Junction-based Pure Automation Inc., a contractor for BP, alleges the company wrongfully fired him, breached a contract, made slanderous and libelous statements about him, and inflicted emotional distress, according to court documents.

“All he did was report safety violations that could have resulted in the explosion of a building and the deaths of seven people, “ said Holland’s attorney, Lynne Sholler, adding that BP’s retaliatory actions after the report now could “destroy his career.”

BP America said through a spokesman on April 25 that the company does not believe Holland’s accusations have merit. The company will investigate the claims, the spokesman said, and “are prepared to respond appropriately.”

Executives at Pure Automation did not return a call for comment.

According to the court filing, Holland moved to Durango in 2007 on a promise from BP that he could garner 10 years of work with it here. But last year, the relationship began to unravel, Holland said, after he witnessed and reported safety violations at a local gas-compressor site.

Holland said an Oct. 27, 2011, gas leak recorded by company equipment at twice the allowable level was handled in an unsafe manner. An equipment operator and person in charge at the scene took a cellphone call too close to the leak, violating BP’s safety policies. Holland tried to get the man to disconnect the call to no avail.

Additional hourly safety testing that should have been performed after the gas leak also was not done, the court filing said. And the combustion hazard at the scene should have halted all work there, but it didn’t.

Court documents stated that when Holland and other colleagues on the project turned in reports of the safety violations, the employees were told by a BP executive the documents would not be well-received by company leaders. Later, another BP executive gave them an opportunity to retract their reports, saying there would be “repercussions” to filing them and that the reporting employees would be “put in the line of fire.”

A few months later, the oil company’s executives accused Holland of drinking on the job, the court document said.

Some witnesses who worked with Holland on the day in question, however, denied seeing or smelling evidence of alcohol use, Sholler said. And the company lobbed the accusation three days after the incident reportedly occurred, making it impossible for officials and Holland to follow company policies that require immediate drug and alcohol testing to confirm or debunk substance-use reports.

“He couldn’t follow protocol and couldn’t defend himself,” Sholler said.

BP promptly fired Holland for the incident, the court filing said, and later circulated correspondence internally and to “parties in the oil and gas industry” indicating Holland was fired for drinking on the job and was globally banned from working for all BP companies and groups.

Holland holds a rare work certification that puts him among just 250 similarly qualified people in the world, Sholler said, and such a ban effectively would force his retirement 20 years prematurely.

“He could be prohibited from working anywhere in the world as a result of this,” Sholler said.

hscofield@durangoherald.com

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