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Turner v. Marathon Petroleum Co. LP

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland

June 17, 2019




         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Marathon Petroleum Company, LP's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 11]. The matter has been fully briefed [Docket Nos. 11-1, 16 and 18]. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds that the Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


         This case arises from Gary Turner's employment with, and ultimate termination from, Marathon Petroleum Company, LP's ("MPC") refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky.


         The facts are, for the most part, undisputed. On December 14, 2');">2010, Plaintiff completed an application for employment at MPC. [Docket No. 11-6]. After interviews with MPC personnel several interviews with MPC personnel, Plaintiff was hired and began his employment with MPC on August 6, 2');">2012');">2 as a Utility Operator at MPC's Catlettsburg petroleum refinery. [Deposition of Gary Turner, Docket No. 11-1, p. 32');">2].

         According to MPC's job description, the primary responsibility of a Utility Operator at is to oversee the day to day operations of either the tank farms or other various operating units within the refinery, which includes monitoring equipment; recording readings from equipment and making required adjustments; detecting unusual operating conditions (such as noises, abnormal temperatures or pressure, and leaks); and responding to emergency situations. [Docket No. 11-8]. To perform this job, Utility Operators must understand refining process operations, complex refinery related materials, product movements, and many different procedures to be executed during the performance of the job, including, but not limited to, opening and closing various sized valves. Id. Plaintiff does not dispute this description. [Docket No. 11-2');">2, pp. 33-36].

         Plaintiff testified that on his first day on the job, he was given a copy of the General Work Rules for the refinery. Id. p. 47. These rules specifically state that all employees are responsible for adhering to safe work processes, following all safety rules, safe work instructions, operating procedures, and wearing all required protective clothing and equipment. [Docket No. 11-9].

         The General Work Rules also set forth MPC's disciplinary process for improper work conduct, noting that certain conduct, including "job negligence, unsafe work practices, performing work in a careless nature, or violation of life critical rules," may warrant discipline up to and including termination for the first offense. Id., pp. 7-8.

         These rules also note that MPC considers the employee's past record, as well as the gravity of the specific offense and the surrounding circumstances, in determining the appropriate discipline to administer. Id.


         From August 6, 2');">2012');">2 until around early October 2');">2012');">2, Plaintiff attended an eight (8) week training class located on the MPC property, which provided him with a general introduction to the refining process. [Docket No. 11-2');">2, pp. 2');">27 &am2');">2');">p. 32');">2 and Affidavit of Katie McKnight, Docket No. 11-7].

         After the training period, on October 1, 2');">2012');">2, Plaintiff began a 12');">20-day probationary period. Id. During this probationary period, Plaintiff received further training, such as: basic operator training; process safety management; performing lock out/tag out of equipment; training on how to check valves to ensure they were operating correctly; hazardous recognition awareness; sight glass procedures; training related to placing and removing valves from service; and a vast array of other process and safety training. [Docket 11-2');">2, pp. 55-72');">2]. The training included watching experienced Utility Operators perform their jobs. Id. Plaintiff testified that he received "a lot of training" by MPC, and this training was continuous throughout his employment. Id.


         During the probationary period, employees receive a written performance evaluation which Plaintiff admits in his brief in opposition to MPC's dispositive motion, was "mixed." The evaluation occurred on October 2');">29, 2');">2012');">2 and is memorialized in a 7-page form, signed by a Foreman, Plaintiff and a representative from MPC's Human Resources department, Katie McKnight. Id. In the evaluation, it is noted that Plaintiff "demonstrated a good attitude and a desire to learn," several competencies, such as stress management, safety and environmental, process operation, equipment reliability, and troubleshooting, were marked "N/A" because Plaintiff was "still in the training process" and MPC did not yet have enough information about Plaintiffs abilities in these areas to evaluate the same. [Docket No. 11-10]. Plaintiff scored on the low-end of "On Target" with respect to process understanding, equipment understanding, and instrumentation. Id. Plaintiff was marked "Does Not Meet Expectations" with regard to his communication skills, noting that he "needs to improve on terminology." Id. Plaintiff was given an Overall Performance Rating at the low-end of On Target. Id.


         The event that lead to Plaintiffs termination occurred on December 2');">26, 2');">2012');">2, during his probationary period. On that day, Plaintiff was working in the Low Pressure Continuous Catalyst ("LPCCR") area of the refinery. [Docket No. 11 -2');">2, pp. 94-95]. Plaintiff concedes that the LPCCR unit processes gasoline, and therefore that area presents a significant risk of fire and explosion. Id., p. 54.

         Plaintiff testified that the Day Foreman, Travis Gillum, asked him to perform a "lock out/tag out" on the west site glass so it could get repaired. Id., p. 96. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Gillum physically showed him exactly what to do. Id., p. 107. Plaintiff even took notes on the instructions given to him by Mr. Gillum. Id. Plaintiff testified, "[i]t seemed simple enough" because applying lock out/tag out to a sight glass is a basic Utility Operator task. Id.

         After completing another job task, Plaintiff returned to the location of the sight glass but was confused about what Mr. Gillum asked him to do. Id., pp. 100, 106. However, he did not ask him for clarification or further instruction. Id. Instead, Plaintiff testified, "[t]hat's where stupid came in."Id., pp. 97-98 (emphasis added). Specifically, Plaintiff closed the wrong valve, which had no relationship to the equipment he was supposed to be working on. Id., p. 100-101. This caused the LPCCR unit to exceed its rated pressure (also known as a Not to Exceed ("NTE")). An NTE is a significant safety event, when the ...

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