The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing ExxonMobil, alleging that the chemical company failed to take the necessary steps to stop racist harassment after five nooses were found over a four-year period at the company's Baton Rouge facility.
ExxonMobil denied the accusation, saying it had investigated and found "no evidence to support allegations of discrimination."
In a press release Thursday, the commission said the suit stemmed from an instance in which a Black employee discovered a hangman's noose at his worksite in January 2020. At the time the employee reported the noose, ExxonMobil "was aware that three other nooses had been displayed at the Baton Rouge complex," the commission said.
According to the lawsuit, nooses first began appearing on the property in April 2016, when an unidentified employee reported finding a rope "tied into a hangman's noose hanging from a scaffold."
Following an investigation, the company banned two contractors from the jobsite. However, the suit alleges ExxonMobil failed to take additional remedial measures to prevent further racial harassment, such as training, counseling or policy changes.
A second noose was later discovered at the complex by a contractor in March 2019. A supervisor reported the incident to ExxonMobil's safety department, but Human Resources was never notified and a contemporaneous investigation was not conducted, the lawsuit alleges.
Five months later, in August, ExxonMobil conducted an investigation after a third noose was found, but was unable to identify the perpetrator, the document says. As a result of that investigation, the company's report recommended "additional measures to remedy harassment in the workplace," but not all of the measures had been completed by the time a fourth noose was discovered in January 2020.
Following the January incident, a fifth noose was allegedly found in December 2020, but the company again failed to properly investigate the claim, creating a "racially hostile work environment," the EEOC said in its press release.
"When employers become aware of racially offensive or threatening conduct in the workplace, they have a legal obligation to take prompt, remedial action aimed at stopping it," said Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for the EEOC's Houston District Office, which has jurisdiction over Louisiana and parts of Texas.
Spokeswoman Stephanie Cargile said ExxonMobil has a "zero-tolerance policy" for workplace discrimination. She added that the company had established ways for employees to report incidents of harassment.
"All matters are investigated, and any employees found to have violated these standards or applicable laws are terminated," she said. "Any contractor offenders would be denied entry to the site."