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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Former petroleum engineer loses appeal over $600K severance pay

By Yolanda Martinez | Jul 30, 2013

NEW ORLEANS - A petroleum engineer has lost an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concerning a summary judgment decision by the district court.

The appellant, John D. Clayton, filed suit against ConocoPhillips for its refusal to grant him severance pay in the amount of $600,000.

Clayton was a company-wide director of worldwide acquisitions and divestitures for Burlington Resources Inc. The company provided employees a severance plan for any termination caused by a change in corporate control within two years of that change. The severance plan also covered resignations for “good reason,” which could be claimed if the employee suffered a reduction in annual base salary or had a substantial reduction in responsibilities or position.

In March 2006, Burlington Resources, Inc. merged with ConocoPhillips Co. Clayton was given a written offer to become manager of A&D. Clayton filed a claim on August 2006 seeking severance benefits for good reason, claiming that his new position took away his responsibilities.

In the district court case, ConocoPhillips moved for summary judgment. It countered Clayton’s claim by arguing that he “had not experienced a substantial reduction in his job position or responsibilities.” The company claimed that in his old position Clayton directed all A&D for a smaller company, while in his new position, he directed A&D for only one department in a much larger company.

In a per curiam opinion, Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart and Circuit Judges W. Eugene Davis and Edith Clement affirmed the district court’s summary judgment. The court noted that “Clayton did not plead with sufficient specificity, and Conoco prevails on that basis as well.”

Case No. 12-20102.

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