BASF Sued for Retaliatory Termination in Southern District of Texas Suit

Last week, a former BASF Corporation employee filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas against the company alleging that it fired him in a retaliatory manner after he reported a colleague’s sexual misconduct to company authorities. Specifically, the employment case claims that the company lashed out against Robert Sulak, a staff engineer, after he spoke up about his supervisor’s unwanted advances towards a summer intern.

The complaint alleges that the plaintiff worked at a BASF manufacturing plant in Beaumont, Texas beginning in February 2014. He worked under Mark Screen, the “FFP Manager.” In the summer of 2018, a female intern was hired, assigned to Sulak’s group, and partnered with Sulak for mentorship.

The intern reportedly approached Sulak in June 2018 and explained that Screen had made unwanted sexual overtures. The plaintiff “believed it was his obligation to assist Ms. Ochoa in making a report to Human Resources about Screen’s misconduct.” Because BASF did not have an onsite human resources manager at the plant, Sulak called BASF’s corporate compliance hotline, which he believed to be an avenue for reporting misconduct.

Thereafter, Sulak helped the intern file a formal complaint. In September 2018, Sulak attended a plant-wide meeting led by the facility’s director. There, the director “gave a speech admonishing  plant personnel that calls to BASF’s Corporate Human Resources (i.e., calls to the  Corporate  Compliance  Hotline) were causing negative attention.” She reportedly threatened that if an employee called the hotline again, they would face consequences.

Sulak reportedly approached the director about her concerning comments, explaining that they “had left a firm impression that employees were not to bring complaints to corporate HR.” Two days later, Sulak learned that Screen had been fired for violating company policy.

The same afternoon, Sulak was summoned to the director’s office. He complied and there, the director and the operations execution manager fired him.

Prior to filing the instant complaint, the plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies by timely filing a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division.

His complaint brings one cause of action, retaliation, claiming that he engaged in a protected activity by assisting the intern in reporting the alleged misconduct. He contends that BASF took “materially adverse action” towards him as a result. He seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement and/or front pay, taxable court costs, attorney’s fees, and other relief the court deems appropriate.

The plaintiff is represented by Dow Golub Remels & Gilbreath, PLLC