Fired Worker Slams ConocoPhillips on Safety

     GALLUP, N.M. (CN) – ConocoPhillips fired a New Mexico man for complaining about safety violations at a natural gas liquid extraction facility, the man claims in court.
     Gregory Orphey sued ConocoPhillips in McKinley County Court on Aug. 28.
     Orphey had worked at the company’s Wingate Fractionator facility since 2006.
     He claims supervisors retaliated after he reported his supervisors’ “unethical practices and behavior” to ConocoPhillips’ ethics department in September 2011.
     Orphey said he told operations supervisor Frank Barton on March 7, 2013, that a planned procedure of adding sodium hydroxide to a net caustic scrubber in a butamer unit should not take place at night.
     “Barton responded by stating that he had done a light study and felt it was perfectly safe to have this job performed as directed,” the complaint states.
     “Plaintiff told Mr. Barton that … the Butamer Circulation was already underway and with that there was enough going on. At that time Mr. Barton told [outside operator Rubin] Valdespina that he would be adding caustic or there would by disciplinary actions taken against him.”
     Orphey claims that after the procedure was stated, Valdespino entered the control room and told the plaintiff to “watch the level, it is too dark and I cannot see it.”
     “By entering the control room, Mr. Valdespino had abandoned his job and left it unattended, which is not in line with procedure, which requires that the operator stay with the job from start to finish,” the complaint state. “The control room is about 200 yards away from where Mr. Valdespino was working on the caustic procedure.”
     Operations supervisor Gabriel Aparicio later testified at an administrative hearing before the National Labor Relations Board that Barton had told him “that neither plaintiff nor Mr. Valdespino raised any safety issues to him, which is obviously untrue,” the complaint states.
     Aparicio is listed as a defendant; Valdespino and Barton are not.
     “Aparicio also testified that had a safety issue been raised, plaintiff and Mr. Valdespino most likely would not have been fired,” the complaint states. “The obvious conclusion is that Mr. Barton lied to Mr. Aparicio so as to push the plaintiff to plaintiff and Mr. Valdespino instead of where it belonged which was with him.”
     Orphey also claims that when he spoke to other employees about unionizing the facility, they said they were threatened by supervisors for talking to unions.
     Orphey seeks actual and punitive damages for wrongful termination, retaliation and breach of implied contract.
     He is represented by H. Jesse Jacobus with the Law Office of George Giddens in Albuquerque.
     A ConocoPhillips spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

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