BP plc’s former chief of natural gas liquids trading has accused the company of wrongfully firing him to manipulate the U.S. market.

In a 10-page civil complaint filed late last month in the District Court of Harris County, TX, Drew Sickinger said his termination in January positions BP to engage in price manipulation by establishing a dominant and controlling position in the market. The alleged plot, for which Sickinger is seeking unspecified damages for breach of contract and fraud, was not revealed in the complaint (Drew Sickinger v. BP Energy Co., District Court of Harris County, TX, No. 2013-05995).

Sickinger claims that shortly after he was hired as head of natural gas liquids trading in February 2009, BP “shut down all trading due to a second price manipulation incident,” which made it impossible for his unit to conduct trading. However, he claims that he remained with BP and “exceeded expectations,” earning the company $60 million in 2011.

He said he took a medical leave in 2012 and claims that shortly before he left, a supervisor warned him that the company’s “positions in the market and strategy, although unlawful, are proprietary and not to be disclosed.” BP “used all means available to it to rid itself of Sickinger and his knowledge of the positions that BP had taken in the market.”

Sickinger was placed on “garden leave” in December, a “procedural device that BP arbitrarily and capriciously uses to eject employees,” the lawsuit claims. Garden leave is a practice whereby an employee who is leaving a job by resigning or being terminated, is instructed to stay away from work during the notice period while still remaining on the payroll. The practice often is used to prevent employees from taking with them sensitive information, especially when they leave to join a competitor.

“Allegations of market misbehavior arising from this legal proceeding are untrue and without merit,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told NGI. “BP is not engaging, and will not engage, in any price or market manipulation. Our ongoing trading strategies are lawful and compliant.”

In October 2007 a BP subsidiary agreed to pay $303 million to settle allegations by the Commodity and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that it manipulated and attempted to manipulate the propane market in 2003 and 2004 (see Daily GPI, Oct. 26, 2007). At that time it was the largest manipulation settlement in CFTC’s history. Four years later the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Enforcement made a preliminary determination that some BP units had manipulated the natural gas market in a case involving Houston Ship Channel trading (see Daily GPI, Aug. 1, 2011; Feb. 2, 2011).

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