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White v. Slaughter

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

February 26, 2019





         Plaintiff Robert White (“White”) brought suit against his former employer, Crop Production Services, Inc. (“CPS”) for alleged violations of the Louisiana Whistleblower Statute (“LWS”), La. Rev. Stat. § 23:967, et seq., [1] and the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute (“LEWS”), La. Rev. Stat. § 30:2027. Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 38] filed by CPS.

         For the following reasons, CPS's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and White's claims against it are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         White was employed by CPS for approximately three years at its Waterproof, Louisiana location. At the time of his termination, he was the Operations Manager.

         CPS sells treated seed, fertilizer, and chemicals to farmers. Typically, a farmer will contact CPS to order seed treated with fertilizers and other chemicals. CPS then treats the seed with the chemicals and delivers the treated seed to the farmer.

         As Operations Manager, White took orders for seed, chemicals, or fertilizer from customers, prepared the orders for processing, and ensured that the orders were properly loaded on the trucks for delivery to the farmer. He was also responsible for tracking the inventory of seed, fertilizer, and chemicals stored at the facility.

         When processing an order of treated seed, White would first complete a form known as a “treat sheet” and then input the order into the computer system. The treat sheet is provided to the employees who will be actually applying the chemicals to the seed. The treat sheet shows the amount of seed to be treated, the chemicals to be applied to the seed, and the amount of chemicals to be applied to the seed. In order to complete the treat sheet, White had to determine the type of chemicals to apply and calculate the correct amount of chemicals to be used based on the order.

         As part his duties as Operations Manager, White was designated by CPS as the location's safety coordinator, which also required him to coordinate monthly safety meetings for the employees at which he showed a video and gave a standardized test. The meetings and the content of the meetings were organized by a third-party vendor and required by company policy.

         During his employment, White reported directly to Facility Manager, Ricky Slaughter (“Slaughter”). Slaughter was the highest-ranking employee at the Waterproof facility. White alleges that Slaughter engaged in actions that were against company policy and/or illegal.

         According to White, Slaughter did not attend safety meetings, but instructed him to falsify records to show that Slaughter was present. White did not report this concern to anyone at CPS prior to his termination.

         Additionally, White testified in his deposition that some time in 2016 he and Slaughter had a conversation about treating seeds with off-label chemicals. According to White, Slaughter said that this process was “illegal, ” and White responded that “We probably shouldn't do it.” [Doc. No. 38-4, White Depo., p. 71]. While White is “sure” that he and Slaughter had other conversations about treating seed in this manner, he could not recall any other specific occasions. Id. at p. 72. After this conversation, White continued to complete treat sheets ordering treatment of seeds with chemicals that he believes were being used off-label after this 2016 conversation. In particular, White completed treat sheets on which he calculated chemical applications for orders using chemical products Acephate, Quadris, and Wrangler. He believes these chemicals were used for an off-label purpose in those orders. White did not report any concerns about off-label use of chemicals prior to his termination.

         On or about April 13, 2017, White and Slaughter had an altercation regarding a change in a customer's seed order. Slaughter asked White to make a change to an order in the computer and White responded that the computer would not allow him to do it. According to White, Slaughter wanted him to delete some seed that had already been designated as treated and replace it with the treated seeds sold by a competing distributor, Tensas Farm Services, to one of its customers. The computer would not allow him to delete the entry because it had been entered one month prior to this time. The seed that Slaughter wanted to be entered had already been treated by Tensas Farm Services, and the customer did not need it. Either Tensas Farm Service or the customer would have been “stuck” with the treated seed. Slaughter intended to sell it. While White thought this action was against company policy, he never though it was illegal. White speculated that Slaughter was selling the seed because that would financially benefit a seed representative who takes Slaughter on several expensive hunting trips each year.

         During the altercation, Slaughter suggested several times that White go home. White became angry and shouted “Fk You” to Slaughter. White knew that conduct such as saying “Fk You” to his supervisor violated CPS policy and that it could result in his termination. White contends that this type of language is not uncommon among co-workers at the Waterproof facility. However, White offers no evidence that such language is commonly used by an employee to his supervisor at CPS, or that any other employee spoke this way to Slaughter or another supervisor and remained employed at CPS.

         Slaughter contacted his supervisor, Marketing Manager Mark Matthews (“Matthews”), to discuss the altercation and decide what to do about it. Matthews agreed that termination was an appropriate response.

         On April 20, 2017, Slaughter discussed the altercation with his Division Manager, Tony Anderson (“Anderson”). Anderson agreed that termination was the appropriate response, but also wanted Slaughter to speak with Region Human Resources Manager, Marilyn Major (“Major”), to make sure she agreed. Slaughter spoke with Major, who also agreed that termination was the appropriate response.

         After discussing the event with Matthews, Anderson, and Major, Slaughter made the decision to terminate White. Slaughter terminated White on April 21, 2017.

         On May 3, 2017, White called Anderson to request a meeting to discuss his termination. Anderson agreed to meet with White, along with Matthews, the following day at his office. At the meeting with Anderson and Matthews, White admitted to saying “Fk You” to Slaughter and admitted he knew he could be fired for doing it. White told Anderson and Matthews that he was sorry and wanted his job back. Anderson told White that he agreed with the decision to terminate him and would not overturn the termination.

         After Anderson told him that he would not overturn the termination decision, White told Anderson and Matthews that they needed to know about certain activities at the Waterproof location. He specifically mentioned that he was concerned about missing inventory, that he did not believe Slaughter took safety meetings seriously, and that he had concerns about seed being treated with chemicals off-label. With regard to the missing inventory, White told Anderson and Matthews that there was a pallet of product that had been missing since early fall, and that when he asked Slaughter about it, he would respond by saying he knew where it was. White never reported this concern to Anderson or Matthews prior to their May 3, 2017 meeting. Although he was concerned about the missing inventory, White did not know whether any laws were violated.

         With regard to the safety meetings, White told Anderson and Matthews that Slaughter did not participate in the safety meetings and would ask White to fill out his test for him.

         With regard to seed treatment, White told Anderson and Matthews that Slaughter was treating seed with products not labeled for that use. Although White had complained to Slaughter previously about the seed treatment, he had not reported any of these concerns to Anderson or Matthews prior to this May 3, 2017 post-termination meeting.

         White also had not reported any of these concerns to Major prior to his termination.

         CPS has an anonymous hotline through which White could have reported any of his concerns, but never did so.

         White initially brought suit in state court. In his Petition, White alleged that he was terminated after he “repeatedly questioned business practices which were illegal and outside the ordinary course of business for CPS.” [Doc. No. 1-2, p. 3, Petition, ¶ 6]. He alleged four improper practices:

(1) Slaughter failed to attend mandatory safety meetings, and, when White questioned him, Slaughter ordered White to falsely report that he had attended;
(2) White raised concerns to Slaughter several times concerning the “improper seed treatment practices”;
(3) White raised concerns to Slaughter about missing inventory and discrepancies in the inventory; and
(4) Slaughter directed White “to accept and input seed purchased from a different distributor into CPS's inventory so that the seed could be treated and re-sold as a CPS product.” When White told Slaughter he could not do so because the seed was purchased from a different distributor, Slaughter demanded that he do so and threatened to fire him and find someone who would input the seed.

[Doc. No. 1-2, pp. 3, Petition, ¶¶ 6-12].

         On August 11, 2017, the action was ...

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