Appeals court affirms ExxonMobil decision to fire maintenance man that falsified records

David Yates May 7, 2008, 9:51am

Justices on the Texas Ninth Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's ruling granting a no-evidence summary judgment in favor of ExxonMobil on May 1.

The oil giant had been accused of intentionally inflicting emotional distress on Thomas Louis, a former maintenance employee, who claimed the company wrongfully fired him for allegedly falsifying maintenance records.

After his employment with Mobil Chemical Company ceased, Louis sued his former employer and two supervisors, James Bowser and Randall Roy, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and retaliation, according to an opinion authored by Justice Charles Kreger.

The case had been assigned to 136th District Judge Milton Shuffield, who granted summary judgment for all defendants.

On appeal, Louis contended the trial court erred in granting summary judgment.

"We find no error and affirm the judgment," Kreger wrote.

In his suit, Louis had alleged that he falsified equipment safety reports at the direction of supervisors Bowser and Roy.

In May 2004, ExxonMobil accused Louis of intentionally falsifying documents, and Louis claimed he was verbally abused, which caused him to suffer a mental collapse, the opinion states.

Louis said he was terminated on July 29, 2004, for violating the company's ethics policy. Louis also alleged that Bowser and Roy frequently used obscene and profane language when speaking to him and that their conduct was extreme and outrageous -- inflicting severe emotional distress.

"In his summary judgment affidavit, Louis states that he was placed on medical leave due to his emotional condition, and that a private physician diagnosed him with a major depressive disorder and prescribed medication," the opinion state.

The supervisors and ExxonMobil filed a combined traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment. They argued that the supervisors' use of vulgar language and instructions to Louis regarding preventive maintenance records and the company's subsequent investigation and termination of Louis are not extreme and outrageous as a matter of law. Louis had no evidence the appellees' conduct was extreme and outrageous, the opinion states.

Both the trial court and the appeals court agreed.

"Although he admits he falsified his reports, Louis argues the statement makes him appear to be more culpable than he really is: in other words, he was the mastermind rather than a reluctant participant," Kreger wrote.

"We hold the trial court did not err in entering summary judgment for all defendants on Louis's defamation claims."

Louis had also contended the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on his workers' compensation retaliation claim, which he submitted after being diagnosed with depression.

The Texas Labor Code prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for filing a workers' compensation claim in good faith," the opinion states.

"In his deposition, Louis testified that Roy told him on Dec. 29, 2003, to be back in Roy's office in 10 or 15 minutes with anything else he might have to support his paperwork. Louis realized his job was in jeopardy; his chest started to hurt and he went to Mobil medical. Louis went on medical leave until he was fired on July 29, 2004.

"The discrepancies in Louis's paperwork surfaced before Louis's chest began to hurt and there is no evidence in the summary judgment record to indicate that the investigation and subsequent decision to terminate Louis's employment was a pretext to disguise a retaliatory discharge.

"Thus, although Louis produced some evidence that a Mobil employee discouraged Louis from filing a claim for workers' compensation, there is no evidence that either directly or inferentially connects the nurse's comment to Louis's discharge from employment or that shows that Mobil did not have a legitimate non-discriminatory reason to terminate Louis's employment.

"The trial court did not err in granting motion for summary judgment for all defendants on Louis's retaliation claim."

Louis was represented by attorneys Curtis W. Leister, Wesley Hoyt and John Werner.

ExxonMobil was represented by attorney Robert J. Hambright.

Appeals case No. 09-06-568 CV
Trial case No. D-173,880

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