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Exxon Sued by Federal Agency Over Nooses Allegedly Found at Louisiana Plant – WSJ

  • Exxon says it doesn’t tolerate discrimination
Exxon Mobil, based in Texas, operates refineries throughout the country, including in Baton Rouge, La.
Exxon Mobil, based in Texas, operates refineries throughout the country, including in Baton Rouge, La.(Lee Celano/Reutets)

Alyssa Lukpat, WSJ

EnmergiesNet.com 03 10 2023

Federal authorities sued Exxon XOM -1.24%decrease; red down pointing triangle Mobil Corp. over five nooses they said were found at the oil company’s refinery in Baton Rouge, La., which they said had created a hostile work environment and subjected employees to racial discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in the lawsuit filed last week that between April 2016 and December 2020, employees and contractors reported finding the nooses throughout the refinery. The EEOC said Exxon had received the reports about the nooses but didn’t do enough to stop people from putting them up.

Exxon “knew or should have known that the measures it had taken to prevent hangman’s nooses were ineffective,” the lawsuit said.

The EEOC said Exxon had violated the Civil Rights Act, a federal law enacted in 1964 to prevent discrimination on the basis of race and other factors.

Todd Spitler, an Exxon spokesman, said Monday the company disagreed with the EEOC’s allegations and has a zero-tolerance policy toward harassment and discrimination.

“We encourage employees to report claims like this, and we thoroughly investigated,” Mr. Spitler said. “The symbols of hate are unacceptable, offensive, and in violation of our corporate policies.”

Nooses have been used throughout American history to lynch Black people and other individuals, according to the NAACP. These days they are more often displayed to inspire fear or convey a racist threat, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In 2020, someone found a noose in an Alabama race-track garage used by Bubba Wallace, a Black Nascar driver. Investigators later said the noose was placed there before Mr. Wallace was assigned to the garage.

The EEOC has prosecuted a number of cases of nooses being displayed or used in the workplace. In its lawsuit filed last week, the agency said it was suing Exxon on behalf of a Black employee, Milferd McGhee, who it said had discovered the fourth noose at the refinery in January 2020.

The agency is requesting a jury trial to order Exxon to pay damages and to compensate Mr. McGhee for his emotional pain. The EEOC is also asking the federal court in Louisiana’s Middle District to order Exxon to provide equal employment opportunities for Black people.

The agency laid out a timeline of the five noose discoveries in its lawsuit. First, the EEOC said, an employee found a noose hanging from a scaffold in 2016. Exxon banned two contractors from the facility but didn’t enact any measures to prevent a similar event in the future, the lawsuit said.

In 2019, a contractor and an employee separately reported finding the second and third nooses, the lawsuit said. Exxon didn’t figure out who had displayed them, according to the lawsuit.

In 2020, Mr. McGhee, who couldn’t be reached on Monday, reported to his supervisor that he had found a noose where he was working, according to the EEOC. Exxon again didn’t find who had placed the noose, the lawsuit said. Someone found a fifth noose at the refinery later that year. 

The EEOC said Exxon had disregarded Mr. McGhee’s federal right to be free from racial discrimination at work.

“Even isolated displays of racially threatening symbols are unacceptable in American workplaces,” said Michael Kirkland, the director of the EEOC’s field office in New Orleans.

Exxon, which is based in Texas, operates refineries throughout the country, including in Baton Rouge, according to the company’s website. Exxon had 62,000 employees as of the end of last year, according to a regulatory filing.

Write to Alyssa Lukpat at alyssa.lukpat@wsj.com

Appeared on the WSJ in the March 7, 2023, print edition as ‘Exxon Sued by EEOC Over Alleged Nooses’.

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