JACKSON, Miss. – An employee being sued by Southern Co. will get another four weeks to work out his defense and look for a lawyer, but won't be able to sue the company or talk about his employment dispute in the meantime.
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An Alabama state court judge on Friday extended a temporary restraining order that also bans Brett Wingo from talking about his work for Southern Company Services, where he was a key manager on the troubled construction of a power plant in Mississippi's Kemper County.
Atlanta-based Southern Co. owns both Southern Company Services and Mississippi Power Co., which is building the $6.2 billion power plant.
Wingo's employer sued him Feb. 19, alleging he improperly reneged on a Dec. 31 settlement to end employment. Wingo said Thursday that while his lawyer negotiated certain terms, he rejected them and fired his lawyer.
"There are certain elements of the settlement that may be harmful to the public interest," he told The Associated Press on Thursday. He said he has primary objectives other than compensation in his dispute with the utility.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Elisabeth French's order, which bans Wingo from discussing the terms or even existence of the proposed settlement, now runs through March 26, when a hearing is set on Southern Company Services' request for a preliminary injunction.
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The ban on Wingo suing the company, it employees, or directors, was added to the original restraining order, which French approved when the company sued.
"I'll abide by the restraining order for the next four weeks," Wingo said Friday after the hearing.
In the suit, the company refers to certain allegations Wingo has made, without detailing them. French's order says Wingo can't disclose any confidential information he learned while on the job, except if he's talking to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Southern Company Services warns it could suffer irreparable injury if Wingo discloses "allegations, trade secrets, and proprietary or otherwise competitive business information."
The dispute was first reported by Eddie Curran of Mobile, Alabama, who operates the mrdunngoestomontgomery.com blog.
A Homewood, Alabama, resident, Wingo had been the project manager for a part of the plant that's supposed to extract carbon dioxide from the power plant's exhaust. That's the most innovative part of Kemper, which is supposed to emit less carbon dioxide than a typical coal-fueled power plant, possibly paving the way for continued use of coal even in a world where the government limits carbon dioxide emissions to curb global warming.
Kemper has suffered years of delays and more than $3 billion in cost overruns.
The lawsuit reflects that at some point last year, Wingo and the company became involved in a dispute. Southern Company spokesman Tim Leljedal said Friday that Wingo is still an employee of the company, but declined to comment further.
The company wants French to declare the Dec. 31 agreement binding, saying it will pay Wingo an unspecified initial settlement, and fund later unspecified payments through an annuity. Southern Company Services has subpoenaed John Saxon, Wingo's former lawyer, to testify against him.
When Mississippi Power replaced President Ed Day and Vice President of Generation and Development Tommy Anderson in 2013, it signed separation agreements with both. The company agreed to pay Day $150,000 a year for three years. The company said it paid Anderson no additional money.
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