Coal facility sued by employee who was allegedly fired for complaining about OSHA violations

By Kyle Barnett | Jun 13, 2013

GRETNA – An employee who was fired by the operator of a Chalmette-based petroleum coke plant is suing claiming he was wrongfully terminated after he pointed out OSHA violations at the plant including one that he claims led to a serious fire.

Walter Castro filed suit against Rain CII Carbon LLC and Rain CII Chalmette Facility in the 24th Judicial District Court on April 18.

Castro began working as an environmental safety and health coordinator for the Rain CII Chalmette Facility at a salary of $90,000 per year on Nov. 29, 2010. He says that the plant's manufacturing process includes the production poisonous gases sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide as byproducts that are released through smoke stacks. Castro alleges that in his training he was taught that sulfur trioxide was released through a “cold” stack and sulfur dioxide was released through a “hot” stack and that under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations the hot stack is only allowed to release emissions under a special permit and both stacks were never to be allowed the release emissions simultaneously.

The plaintiff asserts that beginning in August 2011 and continuing through December 2011 the plant released gases from both stacks at the same time and that they were required to report any releases from the hot stack, but failed to do so. Castro claims that he pointed out the problem to his supervisors, but was told that a damper was broken on the “hot” stack and that it would be fixed soon.

The plaintiff alleges that the malfunction was a violation in itself in addition to the emissions releases and that both should have been reported to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), but that the plant’s production supervisor and plant manager claimed that the violation did not need to be reported to the DEQ because the release in the “hot” stack was minimal. Castro began to record the release as he became concerned over a five-month period he alleges the release was allowed. In addition, the plaintiff asserts he recorded 71 physical OSHA violations in the plant.

Castro claims another violation of OSHA policy occurred when a boiler tube broke at the plant and  he was asked to permit workers to fix the part, which he declined due to the temperature being between 145 and 180 degrees and in violation of a permit for confined space work. The plaintiff alleges after he was relieved from a long shift the repair was permitted by the production supervisor and a temperature of 119 degrees was written on the permit even though when he returned to work the next day he measured the boiler’s temperature at 145 degrees.

Catro’s termination came after a building at he plant caught fire on May 3, 2011 and burned for five days. The plaintiff alleges he wrote a report on the incident claiming the petroleum coke was improperly stored in violation of OSHA regulations and that increased wind into the building caused the spontaneous combustion of the petroleum coke and the serious fire. Castro asserts that his report on the incident was removed from the plant’s official report and that he openly disagreed with its removal in a May 2, 2012 meeting.

On May 8, 2012 the plaintiff alleges he was fired under a false pretext for allegedly lying to a Nurse Practitioner about a worker injured at the plant. In the incident a plant worker injured his shoulder and was told by a nurse practitioner to be limited to light duty, at which time Castro said there were no light duty jobs available at the plant. The plaintiff alleges the employee had the next two days off and that the nurse practitioner cleared him for work after a two day rest, but when the employee returned he injured his shoulder even worse. Castro asserts that he was terminated under this incident for saying there was no light duty available at the plant when his supervisors claim there was.

The defendant is accused of wrongful termination, retaliation and violation of state law.

An unspecified amount in damages is sought for lost wages, permanent negative mark on employment record, mental anguish, inconvenience and attorney fees.

Castro is represented by attorney Kevin Tucker of Metairie.

The case has been assigned to Division I Judge Nancy A. Miller.

Case no. 726-118.

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