Refinery inspector claims he was discredited after finding violations

Kelly Holleran Dec. 6, 2010, 6:57am

A Dickinson man claims he is innocent of a company's numerous false allegations that he abused prescription drugs and consumed alcohol while at work and says he lost significant income because of the remarks.

Harold G. Miller III filed a lawsuit Nov. 29 in Jefferson County District Court against Eli Whitaker, David Bingham, Rick Norton, Bechtel Corp. and Jacobs Engineering Group.

False accusations were made against Miller after he began finding numerous defects in the insulation at the site of a significant refinery expansion project in Port Arthur, he claims.

Miller, who worked for Pro-Inspect, was hired to inspect the fireproofing materials used to coat and insulate surfaces at the Motiva Enterprises oil refinery.

Beginning in April 2009, Miller alleges he began to discover serious deficiencies in the way the coatings were applied, according to the complaint. For example, he discovered wet insulation, horizontal application of insulation onto vessels and improper use of water in the insulation installation process, the suit states.

When he discovered the discrepancies, Miller brought them to the attention of Jacobs and Bechtel quality control personnel, the complaint says.

He also claims he reported additional concerns to Whitaker, who had also been hired as a coatings inspector in July 2009.

"Plaintiff, in fact, observed actual fireproofing material failure," the suit states.

Because of the numerous discrepancies Miller was finding, controversy began to brew and several meetings were held to address Miller's concerns, the complaint says.

Whitaker and Norton, a Jacobs/Bechtel manager, began to become aggravated by Miller's perseverance to rectify problems he found and started to allege misconduct against Miller in retaliation, Miller claims.

For example, they began saying that Miller was opening e-mail messages not intended for him and was accepting kickbacks and improper benefits from contractors, according to the complaint.

In addition, they accused Miller of alcohol consumption while at work, of verbal abuse toward contractor personnel, of uttering threatening statement directed at Motiva project workers and of prescription drug abuse, the suit states. They also said Miller was guilty of unexcused absences from work, the complaint says.

Miller denies all allegations against him and says the charges were made in an attempt to discredit him.

Pro-Inspect, the company Miller worked for, investigated the allegations and found him innocent, but removed him from the project on May 12, thus significantly reducing his pay, according to the complaint.

In addition to his decreased pay, Miller suffered mental anguish because of the statements, the suit states.

In his complaint, Miller alleges defamation, tortious interference and conspiracy against the defendants.

Miller seeks an unspecified judgment and actual, presumed and punitive damages, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

Rob L. Wiley of Stewart and Wiley in The Woodlands and Don Tomlinson of the Law Office of Don Tomlinson in Hitchcock will be representing him.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. E188-871

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