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Well Servicing Companies to Pay $1.2 Million to Settle EEOC Suit for Race Harassment, Retaliation

Blacks, Hispanics and Indians Verbally Abused and Punished for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged
DENVER – A federal judge in Casper, Wyo., has approved a $1.2 million settlement in a case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Dart Energy Corp. and two related companies, the federal agency announced today. The EEOC had charged well servicing companies Dart Energy Corp., Beckman Production Services, Inc., and J&R Well Service, LLC with violating federal law prohibiting race and national origin harassment and retaliation. The EEOC sought monetary and injunctive relief for more than a dozen men who claim that they had to endure racially derogatory comments and jokes on a regular and repeated basis.

According to the EEOC’s suit, truck pusher Ken Nelson, as well as other J&R employees, regularly used terms like “wetback” and “beaner” to refer to Hispanic employees, “wagon burner” to refer to Native American employees, and the “N-word” to refer to black employees. Nelson was also accused, among other things, of referring to shovels as “Mexican backhoes” and stating that “Custer should have killed all the Indians.”

The EEOC’s accusations extended to J&R rigs as well. According to the EEOC’s amended complaint, minority employees on the rigs regularly heard racist terms and demeaning remarks about green cards and deportation. Terms such as “n—-r-rigging” and telling employees to “n—-r a pipe down” were also common, according to the EEOC’s complaint.

According to EEOC, several individuals complained to management, but their complaints were minimized or ignored entirely. The EEOC reported, for example, that Area Supervisor Jim Ferguson responded to employee complaints by telling complaining employees that they could quit, or by saying that he was sick of everyone coming to him and that everyone simply needed to do their jobs.

Further, the EEOC said, several men were demoted or fired after taking their complaints of discrimination to the Wyoming Department of Employment Labor Standards Division.

All this alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race and national origin harassment and retaliation for complaining about it. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Dart Energy Corp. et al., Case No. 13-cv-00198-SWS (D.Wyo.) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to paying $1.2 million, the defendants in the case are also subject to a three-year consent decree which requires extensive training on employment discrimination laws, the establishment of a toll-free anonymous complaint line, and annual surveys of employees to ensure that discrimination is not occurring at J&R facilities. The defendants are also enjoined from engaging in any future employment practice which discriminates on the basis of race and/or national origin, and from retaliating against individuals who oppose such practices. J&R and Beckman will report to the EEOC twice a year for the decree’s duration.

“This case is the latest in a series of successes the Commission has had addressing egregious racial and national origin harassment,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. “This type of outrageous discrimination sadly still exists. Employers in the oil and gas industry should heed this settlement and renew their efforts to ensure that employees are treated equally regardless of race or national origin.”

EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill added, “The type of blatant racist conduct alleged in this case has no place in the workplace. We believe that our lawsuit and the significant relief obtained in this settlement will send the message, not only to the defendants, but to the entire industry that the EEOC will not this kind of misconduct – or retaliation for complaining about it.”

EEOC Trial Attorney Sean Ratliff expressed his pride in the individuals who brought the original complaints.

Ratliff said, “Working in the oil and gas industry can be dangerous enough. Employees shouldn’t have to fight bigotry at the same time. I commend these men for standing up for their rights. I hope that their efforts will inspire others to do the same.”

Denver Field Director John Lowrie added, “The Wyoming Department of Employment Labor Standards Division partnered with the EEOC by taking the charges and beginning the investigation, which was then completed by the EEOC. The EEOC partners with state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs), such as the Wyoming FEPA, in order to enforce employment discrimination laws.”

The EEOC enforces the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.