Sandia Drilling Sued by EEOC for Race Harassment and Retaliation

HOUSTON - Sandia Drilling Company, Ltd, L.L.P. and Sandia Drilling of Texas, L.L.C., Bossier City, La., oil drilling companies, violated federal anti-discrimination laws when their supervisors and other employees subjected two African-American and a Hispanic worker to a racially hostile work environment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The companies also fired one discrimination victim in retaliation for complaining, the agency said.

In a suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division (Civil Action No., 2-12-cv-00615) on Sept. 26, 2012, the EEOC charged that Joe Johnson and Leon Alburty, two white supervisors on an oil rig in northeast Texas where employees slept and worked, addressed two black workers as "n----rs," "black asses," and other racially offensive slurs. The supervisors segregated the men's sleeping quarters and one even tried to place a black worker's hand on the supervisor's private parts, saying "grab this, boy." One day, the two black workers found hangman's nooses on their trucks, and despite reporting the incident to the supervisors, the company did nothing to investigate the matter. One of the men resigned after one of the supervisors told him to carry out an unreasonably dangerous assignment or go home. The other worker felt compelled to quit after a supervisor stated during an employee meeting that "n----rs can pick more cotton than whites."

The EEOC further alleges in its suit that on another oil rig in northeast Texas, a supervisor/driller, Justin Smith, offensively taunted a Hispanic subordinate on almost a daily basis for dating a black woman by calling him a "n-----r" and a "n-----r lover," degraded him by yelling out that he worked "like a wetback," and often threatened to "whip [his] ass with a 24 [-inch pipe wrench]." The subordinate was terminated soon after reporting the harassment to a company superintendant.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the victims as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further discrimination at the companies.

"It is unconscionable that in the 21st century anyone should have to work in a racially hostile environment riddled with highly offensive acts of intimidation simply to earn a decent living," said Martin Ebel, deputy director of the EEOC's Houston District Office. "Our federal laws protect against such workplace misconduct and the EEOC aims to eradicate it."

EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher added, "Despicable racial harassment like this has no place in the American workplace. It is an affront to our values of fair play and opportunity."