Colo.: Drilling Company to Pay $14.5 Million to Settle Bias Claims

By SHRM Online staff
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A drilling company agreed to settle for $14.5 million a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for race and national origin discrimination, harassment and retaliation, the agency announced April 20, 2015..

Patterson-UTI Drilling Company LLC, a Snyder, multistate oil drilling company, agreed to pay $14.5 million and furnish other relief to settle a lawsuit filed by the EEOC and to resolve several cases through separate conciliation agreements. The EEOC charged the company with race and national origin discrimination, harassment and retaliation at its facilities throughout the country.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, since at least 2006, Patterson-UTI engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of discrimination based on race and national origin on its drilling rigs, including assigning minorities to the lowest level jobs, failing to train and promote minorities, and disciplining and demoting minority employees disproportionately.

The EEOC also claimed that Patterson-UTI tolerated a hostile work environment on its rigs. Among other things, the EEOC claimed that these employees endured frequent and pervasive barrages of racial and ethnic slurs, jokes, and comments, as well as verbal and physical harassment and intimidation of minority employees. The EEOC further asserted employees who opposed or complained about discriminatory practices suffered retaliation, including discriminatory discipline and discharge.

The EEOC received discrimination charges from several individuals. Shannon Breen, the lead systemic investigator for the EEOC's Phoenix District, consolidated the charges and conducted an extensive nationwide investigation, leading to the EEOC's determination that Patterson-UTI had engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of discrimination against minority employees. The EEOC estimates that 1,000 or more people were affected.

Such alleged conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment on the basis of race, Such alleged conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment on the basis of race, color and national origin as well as forbidding retaliation for complaining about discrimination. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, then Patterson-UTI and the EEOC filed a Consent Decree the same day resolving the case.

"This case is the latest in a series of successes the Commission has had addressing race and national origin discrimination," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "We are pleased that Patterson-UTI worked with the EEOC to resolve this case and believe the consent decree demonstrates a commitment to fostering a work environment where equal employment opportunities can be realized, regardless of race or national origin.”

The court approved a consent decree settling the suit, which requires Patterson-UTI to put $12,260,000 into a settlement fund for distribution to the class of discrimination victims. Related charges filed with the EEOC resulted in separate out-of-court conciliation agreements with the Commission. When combining the money from the decree and the conciliation settlement agreements, the monetary relief for the victims totals $14.5 million.

In addition to the monetary relief, the settlement required that Patterson-UTI:

  • Create a new position of vice president, who will report directly to Patterson-UTI's CEO and will have monitoring compliance and EEOC reporting responsibility.

  • Provide anti-discrimination training to all employees, including managerial and human resources employees.

  • Conduct random interviews of employees and exit interviews of minority employees to ensure that the discrimination is not continuing.

  • Sponsor outreach activities nationwide to attract qualified minority candidates in a good-faith effort to recruit for all of its facilities qualified minorities consistent with their availability in the qualified workforce.

  • Establish a comprehensive process for receiving, investigating, and responding to employee complaints of race and national origin discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

  • Report to the EEOC on a semi-annual basis for the decree's four-year duration.

  • Hire and compensate a claims administrator to distribute the compensation to the victims.

    "This type of egregious discrimination, sadly, still exists," said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill of the agency's Phoenix District, which has jurisdiction over Colorado. "Employers in the oil and gas industry should heed this settlement and increase their efforts to ensure that employees are treated equally regardless of race or national origin. We are very pleased that Patterson-UTI resolved this case so quickly and is committed to providing a good working environment for all of its employees. “

    EEOC v. Patterson-UTI Drilling Co., D. Colo., No. 15-cv-00600-WYD-CBS (April 17, 2015).

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