Suit alleges retaliation for tip to EPA over illegal oil dumping

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Dec. 3, 2007, 9:39am

MARSHALL -- Robert Steinruck says he was worried about contaminating a day care center when he refused to help dump used oil into a parking lot. Now Steinruck claims he was fired after he notified the Environmental Protection Agency about the illegal dumping.

He filed a wrongful termination suit against General Foam Plastics Corporation on Nov. 29 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

According to his original complaint, Steinruck worked for General Foam for 28 years, eventually becoming maintenance manager for the plant located in Paris, Texas, known as Paris Industries.

Steinruck claims his troubles began in the spring of 2006 when plant manager Ronnie Jackson told him to help dump and cover up used oil in the plant parking lot to avoid paying the fees for proper disposal.

Steinruck says he was concerned about the possible contamination of the drinking water and of a children's day care center across the street. He says he refused and warned the manager of the dangers of dumping the used oil, but claims the plant manager ignored him and dumped the oil in the parking lot anyway.

Steinruck says after the incident he gave an anonymous tip to the Environmental Protection Agency. An EPA investigation resulted in probation for General Foam and an order to have the contaminated soil removed.

Shortly thereafter, Steinruck claims Jackson began to retaliate.

"All fingers point to you as the one who made the phone call [to the EPA]," Steinruck claims his manager told him.

According to the plaintiff's complaint, Steinruck's work hours were increased, he was excluded from management meetings, a subordinate was allowed to assault him, he was not supported in the subordinate's disciplinary actions and management communication decreased.

Steinruck claims that after a subordinate assaulted him, he suffered a heart spasm, hyperventilated and fainted due to the high level of work-related anxiety. He says his doctor's ordered a two-week leave of absence from the plant.

He also claims Jackson "complained about Steinruck taking time off, maintained an antagonistic attitude, created a hostile work environment, and generally harassed Steinruck."

In December 2006, Steinruck contacted a corporate human resource representative about the harassment. He said he was told by an HR representative that she would discuss the matter with Jackson.

Steinruck believes that call was the reason for a plant-wide managers' meeting, including Steinruck, that Jackson held later that same day. Steinruck claims that Jackson told the managers to keep all complaints within the plant and not to call the corporate office.

"Jackson stated in front of the managers that Steinruck kept causing waves," the plaintiff's complaint states.

In January 2007, Jackson informed Steinruck that he was being laid off.

The plaintiff claims the layoff was not justified because he was not at the top of the layoff list and his work responsibilities had not decreased. Steinruck believes his termination and harassment are retaliation for his call the EPA.

The lawsuit alleges wrongful termination for refusing to perform an illegal act and violation of the Family Medical Leave Act. Steinruck is seeking damages for lost wages and benefits, mental anguish, attorney fees, and other consequential damages.

Brian P. Sanford of the Richardson law firm Sheils, Winnubst, Sanford, and Bethune represents the plaintiff.

Jury trial is requested. Judge T. John Ward has referred the case to Magistrate Judge Charles Everingham.

General Foam Plastics Corporation has not responded to the allegations.

Case No.: 2:07cv00521

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20460

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