United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Kenneth M. Hoyt United States District Judge
to be considered the plaintiff's, Samuel Gonzales, claim
that the defendants, ConocoPhillips Company, Frank Alexander,
in his fiduciary capacity, Dan Mecham in his fiduciary
capacity and the ConocoPhillips Severance Pay Plan, breached
their duty under the ConocoPhillips Severance Plan by
wrongfully denying him severance benefits in violation of the
Employees Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”). The defendants contest the
plaintiff's ERISA claim and, further, seek summary
judgment on the plaintiff's severed claim under Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et.
seq. Regarding his Civil Rights claim, the plaintiff
asserts that he suffered disparate treatment and disparate
impact, when he was denied severance benefits.
careful review of the documents on file, the Administrative
Record, and the receipt of testimonial evidence concerning
the completeness of the administrative record the Court
concludes the plaintiff's ERISA claim is unmeritorious
and further, that the defendants' summary judgment should
plaintiff was first employed by ConocoPhillips in 2002 in the
position of petroleum engineer. In 2011, he accepted a
reassignment as a senior drilling engineer and was relocated
to Australia. To relocate, the plaintiff applied for and
received an appropriate work visa and was employed in
Australia. The plaintiff worked in Australia until June 27,
2016, when he was terminated for cause.
undisputed that the plaintiff engaged in criminal conduct on
several occasions, that the conviction for assault resulted
in a period of incarceration that impacted his employment and
that convictions reduced his chance of getting a “work
visa” so that he could continue his presence and
employment in Australia. It is also clear that the plaintiff
was fully aware that his prior conviction and, particularly,
his failure to report same to his employer and Australian
officials could negatively impact his ability to obtain a
work visa. As a result, the Australian Immigration Department
refused to issue the plaintiff a work visa and his bridge
visa was cancelled.
27, 2016, ConocoPhillips terminated the plaintiff's
employment upon his return to the United States. He contends
that in October 2016, he applied for severance pay, however,
he did not receive a refusal notice until August 22, 2017. As
a result of this alleged misconduct by the defendants, the
plaintiff seeks both ERISA relief and damages for allege
Civil Rights violations. The Court is of the opinion that the
plaintiff's ERISA claim fails. Equally, and based on the
same fact(s), the plaintiff's Title VII claim fails.
plaintiff contends that the defendants failed to consider the
entire record that, from the plaintiff's perspective,
includes emails between various ConocoPhillips' employees
and the Plan fiduciaries. The plaintiff suggests that such
conduct was conspiratorial and designed to defeat his
opportunity to receive severance pay.
Circuit case law does not permit an ERISA plaintiff to go
beyond the administrative record when challenging a plan
administrator's factual determinations. The Fifth Circuit
has recognized some issues, which a reviewing court may
resolve, by considering evidence outside of the
administrative record. Among those issues are whether the
plan administrator has given uniform construction to a plan,
Wildrew v. ARCO Chem. Co., 9 F.2d 632, 637 (5th Cir.
1992), and disputes over medical terminology and practice
that expert opinion may clarify, Vega v. Nat'l Life
Ins. Servs. Inc., 188 F.3d 287, 299 (5th Cir. 1999).
limited exceptions do not appear to cover inquiries into the
thought processes of plan administrators. Assuming that both
parties were given an opportunity to present facts to the
administrator, our review of factual determinations is
confined to the record available to the administrator.”
Meditrust Fin. Servs. Corp. v. Sterling Chem., Inc.,
168 F.3d 211, 215 (5th Cir. 1999). Borelli v. Fed.
Express Corp. Long Term Disability Plan, No.
6:04-CV-539, 2005 WL 8160870, at *1 (E.D. Tex. July 22,
administrative record in this case shows that the
plaintiff's opportunity for severance pay ended on June
27, 2016, when he was terminated for cause. In order to
eligibility for a severance claim, the plaintiff was required
to establish that he did not have a disqualifying event. It
is undisputed that at the time of layoffs, the plaintiff was
not an employee, that he had been terminated for cause and,
therefore, had suffered a disqualifying event.
fiduciary of the Plan also concluded that the plaintiff
failed to establish the necessary qualifying circumstances to
receive severance and had at least one disqualifying
circumstance. The evidence also established that the Plan
Administrator did not receive the plaintiff's claim until
August 2017, more than a year after his employment
is no evidence that the Plan Administrator acted in bad faith
or otherwise did any act that prejudiced the plaintiff either
in filing or establishing his claim. Therefore, the Court
holds that the Plan Administrator did not abuse his
discretion by denying the plaintiff's ERISA claim.
See 29 U.S.C. § 1133; see also N. Cypress
Med. Ctr. Operating Co. ...