A federal jury in Newark yesterday awarded $1.375 million in damages to Mobil Chemical Co.'s former manager of environmental affairs, who had claimed he was fired for refusing to cover up potential environmental problems at Mobil.
A U.S. District Court jury deliberated more than three days before finding that Fairfax-based Mobil should pay Valcar Bowman $375,000 in compensatory damages for his firing and $1 million in punitive damages.
Bowman, who had worked for Mobil since 1977, was fired April 14, 1986, after a dispute in which Bowman said he was asked to direct the removal of documents from a Bakersfield, Calif., plastics facility to prevent them from falling into the hands of investigators. When he balked, he said, Mobil fired him.
Bowman also claimed that he was asked to rewrite environmental assessments to make their findings less clear and to limit distribution of the reports to plant managers so that higher-up officials could claim they were ignorant of the problems.
According to Bowman's claims, the events that led to his firing began in July 1985, when the Los Angeles district attorney's office raided a Mobil refinery in Torrance, Calif.
As a result of that raid, Bowman claimed, attorneys at Mobil Chemical feared a similar sweep at the Bakersfield plant and asked Bowman -- then working in Mobil Chemical's environmental affairs offices in Princeton, N.J. -- to have Bakersfield employees remove potentially incriminating documents.
Although Mobil claimed that Bowman was fired as part of a cost-containment initiative, Bowman was fired during a year of record profits for Mobil Chemical, according to testimony in the 12-week trial.
Bowman, who has not worked since except in his own consulting business, claimed he was wrongfully discharged and fired for refusing to perform acts contrary to public policy.
He also charged that the firing violated both Mobil's personnel policies and an oral agreement he had with the company.
The jury found for Bowman on all of his claims and also found for his wife on a claim of loss of consortium.
The jury denied Mobil's counterclaims.
Mobil called the jury verdict "a bad decision."
"Mobil will appeal, and we expect to win on appeal," said John Lord, a company spokesman.
"We are delighted with the verdict," said Stephen B. Wiley, Bowman's attorney.
"It was a clean sweep. It is especially satisfying after a long trial to see justice prevail," he said.
Mobil faces another similar lawsuit.
The company's former toxicology director claims that he was fired for putting environmental concerns before corporate concerns.
In a suit filed in New Jersey Superior Court, Myron A. Mehlman contends that Mobil misled some company officials and outside agencies about the potential for harm from the benzene levels in Mobil gasoline.
Mobil has claimed that Mehlman was dismissed for using Mobil assets and personnel for his own private business activities.