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Vickers v. Bison Specialty Services: An Exercise in Rampant Racism

— May 2, 2022

Put together, and spread out over time, [the alleged actions] show a pattern of “frequent and offensive” acts creating a hostile work environment for Mr. Vickers and other employees of color.

Sadly, it’s no surprise to anyone that, despite great progress socially and legally, racism continues to be an issue in America. Not only does racism have it’s nasty, grimy fingers dug into society as a whole, but it most definitely has a strong hold on the American workforce.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, which in relevant part states that it “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin,” was crafted for the sole purpose of eliminating such workplace issues. However, there are still some dyed in the wool racists who just can’t seem to understand the ridiculousness of judging someone merely by skin color.

That’s the issue we present in this piece about a recently-filed lawsuit in Texas. Plaintiff Christopher Vickers was an employee of defendant company Bison Specialty Services. Bison, according to the Complaint, “provides turnaround and maintenance solutions to the refining and petrochemical, energy infrastructure, and power industries.”

The Complaint identifies Vickers as “an African American, [who]was employed with Bison Specialty from approximately September 14, 2018 to March 30, 2021 at its location in Beaumont, Texas.” In addition to Title VII, Texas’ own Labor Code, §§ 21.051 and 21.055, forbids conduct such as that alleged in Vickers’ suit.

The allegations in Vickers’ lawsuit are things one could easily imagine being the norm in pre-Title VII America. By their very nature, they showcase attitudes and actions that are not only highly unprofessional, but that also show a disturbing lack of decency and, frankly, humanity.

What allegedly transpired at Bison Specialty?

Mr. Vickers alleges that Albert Leblanc, his then-supervisor, “has a habit of making jokes about people of color, including African Americans.” Some of the statements attributed to Mr. Leblanc include:

  • describing African Americans as lazy;
  • bragging “about living in Vidor, Texas, referring to it as ‘God’s country’, because mostly only Caucasian people live there”;
  • making “it known to employees that he has friends in the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang.”

Further, Vickers alleges, Leblanc “publicized his racist remarks in group messages he sent to employees, including subordinates.” Some of these messages include “a video of African Americans dancing on the freeway, with the song in the background with the lyrics, ‘Go back to Africa’.” (see below)

Screen shot taken from Vickers Complaint.
Screen shot taken from Vickers Complaint.

Leblanc also allegedly shared a video that “showed two African American males, with one instantly turning Caucasian and telling the other African American, ‘Naw Ni**a, go get a job!'” Perhaps the most unfeeling and egregious sharing from Mr. Leblanc was a meme sent in after George Floyd’s death:

Screen Shot taken from Vickers Complaint.
Screen Shot taken from Vickers Complaint.

Any of the above allegations certainly show behavior prohibited by Title VII and the Texas Labor Code. Put together, and spread out over time, they show a pattern of “frequent and offensive” acts creating a hostile work environment for Mr. Vickers and other employees of color.

Vickers complained to the company’s HR representative as well as Josh Hall, the general forman. Mr. Hall’s response was that “he understood that Mr. Leblanc’s racist behavior was an issue, but that he could not do anything about him.” The company president, Chad Luhan, was also made aware of Vickers’ complaints.

Enter COVID-19.

In late February/early March of 2021, Vickers, his wife, and his son contracted the virus. Per company policy, Vickers called off work. He allegedly “received an order from Chad Luhan, Bison Specialty’s president, to return to work regardless of his diagnosis, despite the company’s Covid protocols prohibiting him from returning to work.”

Rather than return to work, Vickers did the responsible thing and stayed home to recover. It was at this point, “following his complaints of racial discrimination and hostile work environment” that Bison terminated Mr. Vickers’ employment. Following his termination, Vickers’ hired a lawyer and met the administrative requirements for filing suit.

The matter now goes to the courts. Mr. Vickers seeks:

    1. “direct or general damages;
    1. back pay, plus prejudgment interest as provided by law, from the date of any adverse employment action until the date of judgment;
    1. an award of the present value of front pay due to them for a reasonable period following the date of the judgment, calculated as of the date of judgment;
    1. additional compensatory damages in an amount within the jurisdiction of this court;
    1. exemplary damages against Bison Specialty in a sum determined by the trier of fact;
    1. all prejudgment and postjudgment interest allowed by law;
    1. attorney’s fees;
    1. costs of court;”
    2. and any other relief to which he is entitled under law.

We’ll keep you updated on the progress of Mr. Vickers’ case. In the meantime, you can read the full complaint here.

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