BOSS WATCH: 5/20 - 5/27
Updated On: Jun 11, 2024


By JACOB MORRISON | May 27, 2024


Illegal activities of Southern Bosses for the weeks between Friday, May 20 and Friday, May 27


—TEXAS POLLUTERS—

Today, May 21, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced the filing of a felony criminal charge and related civil complaint and consent decree under the Clean Air Act against TPC Group LLC, a Texas petrochemical company. TPC Group also entered a guilty plea today to a one-count information charging the company with a violation of the Clean Air Act before U.S. Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn for the Eastern District of Texas.

The filings address explosions that caused injuries, evacuations and significant air pollution. The company has agreed to pay over $30 million in criminal fines and civil penalties and spend approximately $80 million to improve its risk management program and improve safety issues at TPC Group’s Port Neches and Houston facilities.

According to information provided in court, on Nov. 27, 2019, two explosions at TPC Group’s Port Neches facility prompted evacuations of thousands of residents from the City of Port Neches and surrounding areas, released more than 11 million pounds of extremely hazardous substances and caused more than $130 million in offsite property damage and other impacts to human health and the environment. Four employees and one contractor suffered injuries including concussions, burns, perforated eardrums, tinnitus and cracked teeth.

TPC Group’s facility produced the hazardous chemical Butadiene, which is used in the production of tires, latexes and plastics. Butadiene can form a “popcorn polymer,” which can grow at an accelerating rate and cause catastrophic events, including explosions and fires. The company was aware that this polymer was forming in some of its production lines, and the risks it posed, but failed to take necessary measures to prevent the explosion.

An initial explosion occurred at the facility’s South Unit. A secondary explosion followed, and a series of fires erupted at the facility which blew contaminants into the air. As a result of the explosions, mandatory evacuations were ordered for residents within a four-mile radius of the facility, voluntary orders to shelter in place were issued for residents in the surrounding area and local schools were closed for multiple days to allow buildings to be cleaned, repaired and inspected.

The company has agreed to pay $18 million in criminal fines. The plea agreement also includes a one-year term of probation and publishing of a public apology. The $12.1 million in civil penalty payments will be made through bankruptcy proceedings. TPC Group will also spend approximately $80 million to improve its risk management program and improve safety issues at both facilities. 

TPC Group has been criminally charged and pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to implement its own written operating procedures, including monthly flushing of production lines that would have prevented the explosion. Clean Air Act regulations require planning to prevent accidental releases of hazardous chemicals and makes implementation of those plans mandatory.

Under the proposed civil consent decree, TPC Group is required to update safety information for equipment at its Port Neches and Houston facilities to ensure that they are designed, maintained, inspected and operated in a safe manner. TPC Group must overhaul its process hazard analysis program to ensure prompt completion of all corrective actions and remedial measures to mitigate hazards at the facilities. TPC Group will also update operating procedures and training for its workers and contractors. TPC Group has agreed to audit and revise their emergency shutdown procedures and implement key performance indicators.

The company will now provide incident investigations to EPA and release incident report information to the public on a publicly available website. The consent decree requires TPC Group to conduct an audit of the relief system design at the Houston facility to ensure the system can handle all appropriate scenarios.

TPC Group will also install and continually use air monitors at the fence line of each facility and in the neighboring communities. Data from the air monitors will be available on TPC Group’s website. TPC Group agreed to conduct an inherently safer technology review to identify safer technology alternatives that minimize or eliminate the potential for accidental chemical releases. TPC Group is required to host community meetings to inform the community about risks associated with its facilities, share evacuation routes, and share information about how to properly shelter in place.

—MISSISSIPPI THIEVES—

The Department of Labor has obtained a federal consent judgment that requires a Greenville cleaning and janitorial service and its owner to pay more than $127,000 in back wages, liquidated damages and compensatory damages following a court’s finding that the two illegally terminated workers for asserting their rights to federally-mandated sick leave. 

Before entering a consent judgment on March 4, 2024, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued an order finding that Jesse’s Cleaning Service LLC illegally terminated the workers after they asserted their right to be paid under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. As part of this finding, the court found that Jesse’s Cleaning Service and Jesse Taliaferro owed $110,952 in back wages and liquidated damages, and $16,749 in compensatory damages.

In addition to ordering payment of the monetary damages, the consent judgment prohibits the defendants from violating the FLSA in the future, barring defendants from terminating or threatening to terminate, intimidate in any other manner and/or retaliate or discriminate in any way against workers seeking to exercise their rights under the FLSA. 

“These workers were, as they should have been, trying to protect themselves and their coworkers in the face of a newly identified virus,” explained Regional Solicitor Tremelle Howard in Atlanta. “Federal law ensures workers do not have to pick their job over their health and enables workers, if they need, to take medical leave under certain provisions to care for themselves or their families and prohibits employers from retaliating against them when they do.” 

“Access to wages and federally mandated pay is a right not a luxury,” Howard added. “Large or small, businesses must respect the law. The actions of this employer to demand workers forfeit their rights and then fire them when they refuse, especially when the employer’s demand would endanger the workers and their coworkers, are unconscionable.”

—ALABAMA DISCRIMINATORS—

TCI of Alabama, LLC, a recycling, removal, disposal and repair company, will pay $90,000 and provide other relief to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) retaliation lawsuit, the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC charged that TCI violated federal law by terminating an employee for participating in an internal investigation about a charge filed with the EEOC alleging that TCI’s hiring practices discriminated against females. The employee who was retaliated against had been with TCI for 28 years. Such alleged conduct violates the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits firing an employee because they engage in protected activity by opposing discrimination or participating in an investigation about a charge. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. TCI of Alabama, LLC) in the Northern District of Alabama Case No. 4:23-cv-1200-CLM.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, after a female job applicant filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, TCI interviewed a long-time management employee about its hiring practices. The manager told the company’s investigator that TCI had a practice of not hiring female laborers, which dated back to when the company first opened in 2007. The EEOC alleges that after the manager told the truth about TCI’s discriminatory policy, TCI’s president repeatedly pressured him to “change his story.” When the manager refused to recant, TCI terminated him.

Under the three-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit, TCI will pay $90,000 in monetary damages to the employee it terminated; adopt and distribute an anti-retaliation policy to its employees and all staffing agencies it utilizes; post a notice to employees about the settlement; and provide annual, mandatory training to owners, managers, and employees on the protections of Title VII for employees and applicants.

“Title VII protects employees from retaliation when they participate in their employer’s internal investigation into allegations of discrimination or otherwise oppose illegal discriminatory hiring practices,” said EEOC Birmingham District Director Bradley Anderson.

Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District said, “Employees willing to stand up against discrimination by telling the truth about illegal practices by their employer are protected by law. The EEOC will aggressively pursue remedies for individuals whose employers retaliate against for exercising their rights under Title VII.”

—DISHONORABLE MENTIONS—

  • The USDOL found Taqueria Tepeque #1 and Taqueria Tepeque #2 in Pharr and McAllen, TX respectively paid cooks, servers and non-exempt managers hourly wages for all hours worked and failed to pay the required time and one-half rate for hours over 40 in a workweek. Additionally, the employers failed to keep federally required records. The Department recovered $37,329 in back wages and liquidated damages for 19 employees. In 2023, the division found more than 29 million owed for nearly 26,000 food service industry workers.

  • Dragon Rig Sales and Service, LLC, a manufacturing and service company which builds oilfield service equipment for energy and industrial companies in Beaumont, TX, will pay $35,000 and furnish other relief to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit, which alleged the company discriminated against an applicant with anxiety and Opioid Use Disorder because of their medication, not because they had any evidence that they could not perform their job duties

  • Smithfield Foods in Atlanta, GA violated federal law when they fired a senior sales employee because of her age, the EEOC charged in a lawsuit. The employee, who had been working for Smithfield for 10 years, was fired in a supposed reduction in force where almost all the workers fired were over 55. 

  • TCI of Alabama, LLC, a recycling, removal, disposal and repair company in Birmingham, will pay $90,000 and provide other relief to settle an EEOC retaliation lawsuit that alleged that an employee was retaliated against for cooperating in an investigation surrounding discrimination against women. The employee who was terminated for that offense was with the company for 28 years. 

  • Tractor Supply Company agreed to pay $75,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the EEOC alleging that in Mississippi the company disclosed, subjected to hostility, and ultimately terminated an employee born with HIV.


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