ExxonMobil sued after a Black employee allegedly discovered a noose at work. It was the fifth at the same facility

Originally Published: 02 MAR 23 18:35 ET
Updated: 02 MAR 23 18:50 ET

(CNN) — Exxon was aware of multiple complaints of hangman’s nooses on display at its Baton Rouge, Louisiana, complex, but the oil company failed to properly investigate the incidents or take action to prevent them from happening again — which they did — according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC alleges that in January 2020, a Black employee at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge chemical plant found a noose at his worksite and reported it to the company. At that time, Exxon was aware of three other nooses that had been displayed on the campus, which includes a chemical plant and a nearby refinery. The company failed to investigate each event and didn’t do enough to prevent further incidents, the EEOC alleges.

In December 2020, a fifth noose was reported at the complex.

“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, in a statement. “Such symbols are inherently threatening and significantly alter the workplace environment for Black Americans.”

The EEOC said Exxon violated the law because of its lack of proper action. The commission said Exxon created a racially hostile work environment for employees.

“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.

Todd Spitler, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil, said in a statement that the company disagrees with the EEOC’s findings.

“ExxonMobil promptly performed a thorough investigation of this claim, and there was no evidence to support allegations of discrimination,” he said.

Spitler said ExxonMobil has “a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment or discrimination in the workplace and have established multiple ways for employees, contractors, suppliers, or customers to safely report incidents of this nature.”

“We encourage employees to report claims like this, and we thoroughly investigated,” he added. “The symbols of hate are unacceptable, offensive, and in violation of our corporate policies.”

In 2021, multiple nooses were discovered at the construction site of an Amazon fulfillment center in Windsor, Connecticut. The site had previously been shut down so that cameras and other safety precautions could be put in place, but an eighth noose was discovered even after the cameras were positioned.

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