Miner says he was threatened after seeing copper theft

By Cara Bailey | Sep 14, 2007

CHARLESTON - A Kanawha County man who says his life was threatened after he witnessed a copper theft at a mine has filed a suit against the mine company, claiming he was forced to work in a hostile environment.

Philip Tully filed a suit Sept. 4 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Selah Corporation, Brody Mining and Belo Mine Services, seeking damages for the distress he suffered. He claims death threats were made to hinder him from telling people he saw the wire theft.

Tully was hired March 2, 2006, with Belo Mine Services, in Mingo County. He was hired by Gene Brinager Sr., who is named as a defendant in the suit. Tully quit his previous job immediately and started work at Belo.

According to the suit, Tully completed his safety training then was informed there were no available jobs with Belo at the Harris Coal Mine. Tully claims he called Brinager every day to see if there was work, and was told April 8 there was a job open at the Selah Mine in Kanawha County.

Tully would be under the supervision of Brinager's son, Gene Brinager Jr.

During the first week of work, Tully claims Brinager Jr. did not show up for work, or was late, causing Tully to lose hours toward his "Black Hat" certification. Tully could not work if Brinager Jr. was not there with him.

After working at Selah Mine, Tully went to Fork Creek No. 1, then Brody Mine in Boone County. While at Brody Mine, Tully claims he overheard a conversation between Brinager Jr. and Danny Colegrove, a Belo Mine Supervisor. According to the suit, Brinager bet Colegrove that he could not make Tully quit his job.

Colegrove then took over as Tully's supervisor.

According to the suit, Colegrove often put Tully in dangerous situations in an attempt to get him to quit. Those situations included one where Colegrove told Tully to stand on the conveyor belt to reach something.

While Tully was on the belt, it started, making him "jump off to avoid being killed," the suit says.

On another occasion, Tully claims Colegrove threw wet concrete in his eyes, and he was forced to drive himself to the hospital.

Tully told Brinager Sr. but was told there was nothing he could do. He then told Anthony Cline, a co-owner of the mine, who told Tully he would take care of the situation.

According to the suit, Colegrove's harassment declined, but did not stop.

Tully was not reassigned when his job at Brody Mine was complete. He was told he would be hired at Selah Mine, and reported for work.

He worked at Selah until November 2006. According to the suit, Tully witnessed Patrick "Shady" Grady and Eric Ritchie stealing copper from the mine.

According to the suit, Grady told Tully if he told anyone he would be sorry, and "anyone could get hit in the head with a roof bolt, and then you lay a rock on his head. Another dead miner, end of story."

However, at the end of that month, Tully told Brinager about the copper theft, and about his life being threatened. Tully said he wanted to be moved to a different mine. Brinager said he would try to move him, but it would take a couple of weeks.

Tully also reported the theft to Johnny Sheppard, the Selah Mine foreman and Tom Harlow, his supervisor. Sheppard told Tully he would have to continue working with Grady and Ritchie, until the situation could be taken care of.

On Dec. 4, 2006, Tully was supposed to help Grady move a several thousand pound battery. According to the suit, Tully claims Grady would attempt to hurt him, if given the chance. A MSHA mine inspector was visiting the mine on the same day. Tully claims he told the inspector about the copper theft.

Tully also told the inspector, "if he were killed at work that night that it should not be viewed as an accident," the suit says.

The inspector returned to the mine the next day and talked about the copper theft with the mine supervisors.

Tully received a call from Brinager after that, informing him not to go report to work, because "they don't want you at the mine."

Tully claims Brinager told him he was fired because he talked to the inspector.

In the seven-count suit, Tully claims he was discriminated against and forced to work in a hostile environment. Tully claims he suffered economic loss, loss of good will in the community, out of pocket losses, severe emotional and mental distress, humiliation, anxiety, embarrassment, aggravation, annoyance and inconvenience.

Tully seeks back pay and front pay, plus compensatory and punitive damages for his damages.

Attorney Matthew S. Criswell is representing Tully. The case has been assigned to Judge Charles King.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 07-C-1870

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