The federal government filed a lawsuit Thursday against ExxonMobil alleging a Black worker was subjected to racial hostility over several years when five nooses were found at a company complex in Louisiana.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, alleges in the suit that the employee, Milferd McGhee, who has worked at the Baton Rouge chemical plant since 2010, had his civil rights violated when five nooses were discovered at the complex between April 2016 and December 2020.
ExxonMobil’s failure to implement measures to stop the workplace harassment, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and “subjected Mr. McGhee to a hostile work environment on the basis of race,” the lawsuit said.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
An ExxonMobil spokesperson responded to the lawsuit in a statement Friday.
“We disagree with the EEOC’s findings and allegations,” the statement said. “We encourage employees to report claims like this, and we thoroughly investigated. The symbols of hate are unacceptable, offensive, and in violation of our corporate policies. We have a zero tolerance policy of any form of harassment or discrimination in the workplace by or towards employees, contractors, suppliers or customers.”
McGhee found a noose in January 2020 and reported it to his supervisor, the lawsuit said. At the time, McGhee was aware of other nooses found at the complex.
ExxonMobil was aware of three other nooses discovered at the complex that also included an oil refinery, according to the suit.
A fifth noose was found at the complex in December 2020, nearly a year after McGhee went to his supervisor about the noose he found, according to the lawsuit.
McGhee could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.
In a statement about the racial discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC said ExxonMobil had a legal obligation to take prompt action aimed at stopping the historically threatening symbols.
Elizabeth Owen, a senior trial attorney in the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office, said in the statement: “A noose is a longstanding symbol of violence associated with the lynching of African Americans. Such symbols are inherently threatening and significantly alter the workplace environment for Black Americans.”
McGhee filed a charge alleging the violation of his Title VII rights with the commission, the suit said. The commission alerted ExxonMobil on Feb. 9, 2022, of finding a reasonable cause that they violated the federal law.
The EEOC said in the lawsuit that it invited ExxonMobil to conciliation but then gave the company notice of conciliation failure on April 4, 2022.
ExxonMobil banned two contractors from the job site after a noose was found in 2016 by a chemical plant employee, the lawsuit said.
After a noose was found in March 2019: “A supervisor took possession of the noose and notified ExxonMobil’s safety department, but Human Resources was never notified, and a contemporaneous investigation was not conducted,” the suit said.
“ExxonMobil knew or should have known that the measures it had taken to prevent hangman’s nooses were ineffective and that additional measures were necessary to prevent further harassment,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit requests a jury trial.
The lawsuit is also asking the courts to grant a permanent injunction against ExxonMobil and its employees from discriminating against workers on the basis of race and for the company to keep posted notices about Title VII.
The suit is also requesting McGhee is compensated for past and future losses including “emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, and humiliation.”
CORRECTION (March 6, 2023, 1:24 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of the company being sued. It is ExxonMobil, not ExxonMobile.