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SMITH v. CHEVRON USA

February 16, 1995

WESLEY M. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CHEVRON USA, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. CURTIS JOYNER

 Joyner, J.

 This Title VII case was tried before this Court in a non-jury trial on November 7-9, 1994. The plaintiff is Wesley Smith, a black male who alleges that he was terminated by the defendant, Chevron, USA ("Chevron"), on account of his race. The parties have submitted their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and the matter is now ripe for decision. Accordingly, the Court makes the following factual findings and legal conclusions.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 A. Background

 1. In 1974, Mr. Smith was hired by the Gulf Oil Company and worked at its refinery in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Tr., Vol. I, pp. 13-14).

 2. In 1986, Chevron purchased the refinery from Gulf. Most of Gulf's employees, including Mr. Smith, were retained by Chevron. (Tr., Vol. I, pp. 8-10).

 3. From July 1, 1986 until he was terminated on November 25, 1991, Mr. Smith worked for Chevron in the blending and shipping department of the refinery. (Tr., Vol. I, p. 13).

 B. Mr. Smith's Duties

 4. Mr. Smith worked as a pumper and an operator while employed by Chevron. In these capacities, Mr. Smith was charged with monitoring the flow of oils and other petroleum products to and from tanks and vessels, as well as lining up piping to facilitate these transfers, in accordance with the wishes of his supervisors. (Tr., Vol. III, p. 42).

 5. The task of monitoring product flow required the operator to measure and record the levels of the various tanks to ensure that overfills did not occur. Generally, the process of measuring tank levels entailed reading the gauges on the tank. (Tr., Vol. II, p. 133).

 6. Overfills could result in the spill of petroleum product onto the ground, or the release of vapors into the air, which could result in environmental and personal harm. (Tr., Vol. I, p. 44).

 7. Operators were required to hand gauge a tank if the tank was filled to within five feet of its maximum safe capacity or if the operator had reason to believe that the gauges were not working properly (e.g., if the operator knew a tank was either being filled or emptied and that activity was not reflected in the gauge reading). (Tr., Vol. II, p. 134).

 8. Chevron required that its employees receive a performance evaluation at least every two years, although supervisors were permitted to issue evaluations annually if they so desired. (Tr., Vol. I, p. 29).

 9. For the period ending in October, 1987, Mr. Smith received an evaluation in the "middle range of performance," which was the evaluation received by most employees. (Tr., Vol. I, p. 30).

 10. For the periods ending in October, 1988 and October, 1989, Mr. Smith again received evaluations in the "middle range of performance." (Tr., Vol. I, pp. 31-33).

 11. For the period ending in October, 1990, Mr. Smith's evaluation fell to that of "minimum acceptable performance." (Tr., Vol. I, p. 34).

 D. Disciplinary System

 12. Chevron employed a progressive disciplinary system to respond to employee negligence and misconduct. (Tr., Vol. II, p. 105).

 13. Thus, an employee would receive punishments of increasing severity for successive infractions of company policy. (Tr., Vol. II, p. 105).

 14. These punishments included oral warnings, written warnings, suspensions, and termination. (Tr., Vol. II, p. 105).

 15. Punishments were meted out according to the severity of the event and the responsible individual's disciplinary history. (Tr., Vol. I, p. 46).

 E. Events Leading to Mr. Smith's Termination

 16. Mr. Smith was terminated on November 25, 1991, ten days after a tank that he was charged with monitoring overfilled. (Tr., Vol. II, p. 166). Prior to this incident, Mr. Smith had been disciplined several times for various infractions of company policy. These incidents are detailed below.

 The first incident

 17. The first such time occurred on June 15, 1985, while the refinery was still operated by Gulf. On that day, Mr. Smith was assigned the task of lining up piping to facilitate the transfer of heavy naphtha, a petroleum product, from one tank to another. (Tr., Vol. I, pp. 75-76).

 18. Some time later, Mr. Smith's supervisor discovered that the heavy naphtha had become contaminated with another product. After an investigation, the supervisor determined that the contamination had occurred because Mr. Smith had ...


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