Exxon under fire for alleged workplace racism

by Ana Lopez

Exxon is facing a lawsuit from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after a black employee discovered a hangman’s noose at a job site in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in January 2020. According to a press release published by the EEOC this week, the discovery of the fifth noose in the complex in December 2020 led to legal action against the company.

Hangman loops are widely recognized as a symbol of racial violence, so the discovery of multiple loops in the same location was considered threatening. The EEOC stated that employers are required by law to take prompt action to stop such behavior in the workplace. Exxon allegedly violated federal law by failing to take proper steps to prevent the display of ties at its Baton Rouge complex once it became aware of such behavior.

CNN quoted company spokesperson Todd Spitler as saying that Exxon disagrees with the EEOC’s decision, but that it has “a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment or discrimination in the workplace and has established multiple ways for employees, contractors, suppliers or customers to safely report these types of incidents.”

Exxon has stated that it takes allegations of racism seriously, encourages employees to report them and is investigating them. However, the company said it found no evidence for the accusations of executioner loops at the Baton Rouge complex.

The EEOC’s legal action against Exxon (aka ExxonMobil) reminds employers of their legal obligations to stop such behavior to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment for all.

EEOC New Orleans Field Office Director Michael Kirkland stressed, “Even isolated displays of racially threatening symbols are unacceptable in American workplaces.”

The release of the EEOC said it tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement with ExxonMobil through a mediation process but was unsuccessful, hence the lawsuit.

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