In the News

Mayfield Makes Company History and Obtains a Highly Successful Labor Arbitration Award for Shell Oil Lubricants

May 23, 2013

Bonnie Mayfield, a Bloomfield Hills-based litigator and member of the Litigation and Labor and Employment Law practice groups, won an arbitration award in favor of Shell Oil’s River Rouge Plant, in a matter of an employee discharged for violating the Company’s Life Saving Rules. The to-be-published arbitration opinion—click here to read—made company history.

The case centered on an eight-year employee of the Company who was working on top of a tanker without protecting against a fall. The worker’s employment was terminated because he violated the Company’s Life Saving Rule #6: “Protect yourself against a fall when working at height.”

As the United Steelworkers noted—before Mayfield’s winning award“employees discharged under the Life-Saving Rules have been reinstated at arbitration.” The United Steelworkers argued that termination was too severe a punishment for the infraction and the employee should be reinstated with a lesser penalty as were other employees in preceding Life Saving Rules matters. The “appropriate approach to the situation calls for progressive discipline” rather than termination, the Union argued.

As Mayfield demonstrated, however, the Company had repeatedly made it clear to employees that “If you choose to violate a lifesaving rule, you choose not to work for Shell.” The employee in question was trained on and knew the Shell Life Saving Rules as well as the consequence for rule-breaking. During Mayfield’s skillful and vigorous cross-examination, the former employee, who testified to a new version of salient facts during the arbitration, admitted that he violated the Life Saving Rule even under his new scenario.

In reaching the award in favor of the Company, the arbitrator noted that “[t]he imposition of the Life-Saving Rules constituted a serious effort to make the workplace safer.” The arbitrator added, “The severity of the designated penalty for violation of Life-Saving Rules, termination, is prompted by the degree of risk taken when a Rule is violated: there can be no more severe consequence than death.”