West Texas Oil Field Service Company Settles EEOC National Origin Harassment Suit Mid-Trial
Hispanic Boss Menacingly Mistreated Crew He Called ‘Wetbacks’ Because of Their Mexican Heritage
Midland, Texas-based Blue Ridge Resources, L.L.C. has settled a national origin harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on the second day of trial, before the case was submitted to the jury, the federal agency announced today. The settlement pays three former oil field service crew members $43,000 in damages for the mistreatment and provides extensive injunctive relief to prevent future unlawful conduct.
The EEOC’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Midland/ Odessa Division (7:10-CV-00117-RAJ), charged that Blue Ridge Resources subjected three former oil rig workers to a hostile work environment based on their Mexican national origin. The discrimination alleged was at the hands of a supervisor who repeatedly referred to the subordinates as “wetbacks” irrespective of the fact that one was born in the United States and the other two are permanent residents who have been authorized to work in the U.S. for decades.
According to the EEOC, Blue Ridge’s crew supervisor over the rig, George Gutierrez -- who is also of Mexican national origin -- subjected the three field workers to daily slurs based on their Mexican heritage, including, “wetbacks” and “dirty Mexicans.” The EEOC further charged that Gutierrez, who had admitted to a nickname of “Wetback Killer,” would deny the men water while working in the unrelenting heat of West Texas, telling them that “wetbacks don’t need no water.” The first victim to testify at the trial, which started on April 30, told the jury that Gutierrez threatened to fire him if he went over the harasser’s head to complain. The EEOC also argued that although top management at Blue Ridge did not engage in the harassment, the company was ultimately responsible for lack of training of its supervisor and for never having spoken with the workers about the supervisor’s alleged conduct even after the matter came to their attention.
National origin harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, even when the harasser is the same national origin as the victim. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Midland attorney Holly B. Williams intervened in the EEOC's case on behalf of one of the victims.
“This was an outrageous case of hard-working and vulnerable field workers who were abused by a boss who shared the same heritage as his victims,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Devika Seth, the lead attorney on the case. “We hope that this settlement sends a message to employers – including those in the oil industry – that a dismissive approach to what goes on out in the field will not be tolerated.”
In addition to the monetary relief, the consent decree signed by U.S. District Judge Robert Junell on July 13, 2012, requires the company to:
- revise its discrimination policy to include national origin harassment, and procedures to ensure that employee complaints are addressed while providing multiple avenues for reporting violations;
- conduct annual training for five years on laws against national origin harassment in the workplace, and the proper procedure for investigation of complaints; and
- post an anti-discrimination policy notice – in English and Spanish – at its office and shop.
EEOC Dallas District Director Janet Elizondo said, “These men were subjected to a hostile environment of fear, insults and intimidation, while options for good paying jobs elsewhere were limited. This injunctive relief in an industry where communication may be a challenge due to the remoteness of assigned locations is important to the concept of promoting employer accountability, wherever the job site may be.”
“Condescending or hostile attitudes and prejudices against persons of Mexican or Latin-American ancestry unfortunately remain all too common,” said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “As we saw in this case, some Hispanic supervisors may even try to distance themselves from their Hispanic subordinates and mistreat them so as to separate themselves in the eyes of non-Latino business owners and operators.”