Materials giant LyondellBasell Industries is appealing a federal decision requiring the firm to pay almost $800,000 as part of a whistleblower investigation.
The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered Houston-based LyondellBasell to pay $764,444 in back wages, interest and damages to an account manager who worked at the firm's technical center in Lansing, Mich. According to a June 29 news release from the department, the manager was fired after raising concerns about the firm's financial practices. The decision also requires LyondellBasell to reinstate the employee.
In a statement to Plastics News, a LyondellBasell spokesperson said that the firm "denies the allegations and disputes the Department of Labor's conclusion."
The department "disregarded clear evidence, which directly refuted the allegations," the spokesperson added. "LyondellBasell is currently appealing the order and looks forward to its day in court."
Department officials said in the release that the manager "continually expressed concerns and objections about a proposed accounting practice they believed to be illegal." LyondellBasell unit Equistar Chemicals then placed the manager on a performance improvement program and later fired them, according to the release.
A whistleblower investigation by the Department's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) determined that the manager's placement on the performance improvement plan and dismissal was in retaliation for their protected activities under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The federal law protects investors from fraudulent financial reporting by corporations.
About $518,000 of the ordered payment is for lost wages, with about $145,000 for lost benefits, almost $51,000 for interest on back wages and $50,000 in damages and attorney's fees. According to the order, LyondellBasell also must also expunge the manager's personnel record of any adverse information related to the whistleblower complaint.
"We commend this worker for bravely exercising their rights and reporting workplace misconduct," OSHA Acting Regional Administrator William Donovan said in the release. "This employee's concerns were protected by federal laws and well-known by management who took illegal actions by retaliating against them."
LyondellBasell's technical center in Lansing is dedicated to product development, technical analysis and commercialization of polypropylene-based compounded materials, according to the company website. The center's labs conduct application development and performance testing for automotive and other durable goods applications in North America.
LyondellBasell is one of the world's largest producers of PP and polyethylene resins and is North America's largest plastics compounder. The firm has operations in more than 100 countries and posted sales of $27.7 billion in 2020.