ExxonMobil violated federal law when it failed to take action after hangman’s nooses were found at its Baton Rouge, La., complex, according to a federal agency that filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the petrochemical company Thursday.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Black employee, who found a noose at his worksite in 2020, the agency said in a news release.
When the employee reported the noose, ExxonMobil was aware that three others had earlier been found at the plant, the EEOC alleges.
A fifth noose was reported at the complex later in 2020, according to the EEOC.
The incidents created a racially hostile work environment, the agency said.
“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.
The racially harassing incidents violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, the agency said.
The EEOC filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“A noose is a longstanding symbol of violence associated with the lynching of African Americans,” said Elizabeth Owen, a senior trial attorney in the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office.
“Such symbols are inherently threatening and significantly alter the workplace environment for Black Americans.”