The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit alleges that ExxonMobil violated a Black employee’s rights by failing to properly investigate nooses found inside a Baton Rouge refinery.
The United State Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, has filed a lawsuit alleging that an African-American ExxonMobil employee was subjected to racial discrimination after five nooses were found inside a company facility.
According to NBC News, the lawsuit was filed by the EEOC on behalf of Milferd McGhee, who has worked at the company’s Baton Rouge chemical plant since 2010.
In the lawsuit, McGhee alleges that at least five nooses were discovered at the facility between April 2016 and December 2020.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims that ExxonMobil’s failure to prevent further harassment violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and “subjected Mr. McGhee to a hostile work environment on the basis of race.”
A spokesperson for ExxonMobil has denied McGhee’s allegations.
“We disagree with the EEOC’s findings and allegations,” the spokesperson said. “We encourage employees to report claims like this, and we thoroughly investigated. The symbols of hate are unacceptable, offensive, and in violation of our corporate policies. We have a zero tolerance policy of any form of harassment or discrimination in the workplace by or towards employees, contractors, suppliers or customers.”
The lawsuit states that McGhee found a noose in January 2020 and reported it to his supervisor.
At the time, McGhee was not aware that other nooses had been found in the complex in years past.
However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims that ExxonMobil knew of at least three other nooses—including a fifth that was discovered in December 2020, nearly a year after McGhee’s initial report.
Elizabeth Owen, a senior trial attorney with the department’s New Orleans Field Office, said that companies like ExxonMobil have a legal obligation to curtail the display of “historically threatening symbols.”
“A noose is a longstanding symbol of violence associated with the lynching of African-Americans,” Owen said in a statement. “Such symbols are inherently threatening and significantly alter the workplace environment for Black Americans.”
While ExxonMobil terminated two contractors after a noose was found in 2016, the EEOC claims that the company never properly escalated the matter.
“A supervisor took possession of the noose and notified ExxonMobil’s safety department, but Human Resources was never notified, and a contemporaneous investigation was not conducted,” the agency wrote in the lawsuit.
“ExxonMobil knew or should have known that the measures it had taken to prevent hangman’s nooses were ineffective and that additional measures were necessary to prevent further harassment,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages for future losses, emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, and humiliation.