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BP stands by its dismissal of contractor

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

BP has denied any wrongdoing in ending its working relationship with a contract employee who reported a safety violation last year in La Plata County.

Larry Holland, the former contract worker for BP, filed a lawsuit in April seeking $5.2 million in damages.

In his complaint, Holland said the company falsely accused him of drinking on the job and fired him after he reported a safety violation.

He accused BP of wrongful termination, breach of contract, defamation and inflicting emotional distress.

In a 12-page response to the complaint, BP America Production Co. denies most of the claims and asks that the lawsuit be dismissed.

In a separate motion, BP asks that the defamation claim be dismissed, saying Holland did not identify who made the defamatory statements or when such statements were made.

In his complaint, Holland, an employee of Grand Junction-based Pure Automation Inc., a contractor for BP, said he moved to Durango in 2007 with the understanding he would have 10 years of work. But the relationship soured last year, Holland said, after he witnessed and reported a safety violation at a local gas-compressor site.

According to his lawsuit, the incident occurred Oct. 27, 2011, when an equipment operator and person in charge answered a cellphone at a reported gas leak in violation of BP’s safety policies. Holland tried to get the man to disconnect the phone, to no avail, the lawsuit says.

The next day, Holland said he planned to make a formal complaint. When he and other colleagues on the project turned in a safety-violation report, a BP executive said, “Are you sure you want to do this? There will be repercussions. Your guys will be put in the line of fire. The guys upstairs will not be happy,” according to the lawsuit.

A couple of weeks later, the person who filed the report was demoted and all his contractors, including Holland, were removed from his authority.

A few months later, BP executives accused Holland of having alcohol on his breath at a job site. The accusation was made three days after the alleged incident, making it impossible to do immediate drug and alcohol testing as required by company policies, the lawsuit says.

BP fired Holland for the incident, according to his lawsuit. BP also circulated information internally and to “parties in the oil and gas industry” saying Holland was fired for drinking on the job and was globally banned from working for all BP companies, according to his lawsuit.

In BP’s motion to dismiss, the company said Holland made a “sweeping conclusion” that BP defamed him without providing any facts in support of his claims.

In its response to the lawsuit, BP acknowledges an official told Holland’s employer that he suspected Holland of alcohol use. BP also admits that no alcohol testing was done because too much time had lapsed between when the report was made and when alcohol was smelled on his breath.

The case is scheduled for a pretrial conference June 7, 2013, before U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn.

shane@durangoherald.com

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