Billy Ray Tratree, an African-American, worked for Amoco Pipeline Company starting in 1978, and continued working for BP when BP and Amoco merged in 1999. Beginning in 1995, he was a “Measurement Specialist,” and worked on a section of BP pipeline between Mexia and Texas City, Texas. In 2001, BP decided to eliminate one of the two positions on that section of pipeline, and Kelly Gleason, the district manager, chose to eliminate Tratree’s job instead of that of his coworker, Grayson Williams, who is a white male six years younger than Tratree and who was less senior than Tratree. Williams was classified as a “Field Specialist,” but performed approximately the same work as Tratree. Tratree v. BP N. Am. Pipelines, Inc., 390 Fed. Appx. 386, 389 (5th Cir. 2010).
When he was terminated, Tratree was 49 years old and was three months away from turning 50, when he would have been eligible to retire. Tratree’s Union (the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International, now “PACE”) has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with BP. The CBA includes a process called “bumping,” whereby a Union member whose job position has been eliminated has the right to take the position of a less senior employee if the terminated employee is qualified for the position, thus bumping the less senior employee out of his job. The employee who exercises his bumping rights retains his pay level, benefits, and seniority rights in the new position. The CBA states that employees may bump other employees in either new or old classifications. Id. at 390.
However, BP presented evidence that according to its “bumping guidelines,” as understood by both BP and the Union, an employee with a position in the new classification system, such as Williams, could not be bumped by an employee classified under the old system, such as Tratree. When his position was eliminated, Tratree was sent a bumping sheet, which listed the less senior employees whose positions Tratree had the option to take. The bumping sheet did not include the option of bumping Williams. According to the CBA, Tratree had five business days to sign the sheet before he would be terminated. He refused to sign it and instead complained that his bumping options were incorrect because they did not include the option to bump Williams. As a result of his failure to sign the sheet, Tratree was let go on September 27, 2001.
Tratree then sued BP in November of 2002, alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and age discrimination and retaliation under the ADEA. The district court granted BP’s motion for summary judgment on the Title VII and the ADEA failure-to-promote claim. After Tratree presented his case on the ADEA discrimination and retaliation claims, the district court granted BP’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. Tratree appealed the district court’s orders of summary judgment and judgment as a matter of law, and this court reversed the grant of summary judgment on his race discrimination claims and reversed the judgment as a matter of law on the age discrimination claims, affirming the remaining judgments. On remand, the jury returned a verdict for BP on both claims. Thus the Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury verdict and judgment in favor of BP.