Exxon is facing a lawsuit from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after a Black employee discovered a hangman’s noose at a worksite in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in January 2020. According to a press release published by the EEOC this week, the discovery of the fifth noose at the complex in December 2020 prompted legal action against the company.
Hangman nooses are widely recognized as a symbol of racial violence, so the discovery of multiple nooses at the same location was deemed threatening. The EEOC stated that employers are legally obligated to take prompt action to stop such conduct in the workplace. Exxon allegedly violated federal law by not taking proper action to prevent the display of nooses at its Baton Rouge complex once it knew of such behavior.
CNN quoted company spokesperson Todd Spitler, who said Exxon disagrees with the EEOC’s decision, but it does have “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.”
Exxon has stated that it takes allegations of racism seriously, encourages employees to report them, and it investigates them. However, the company said it found no evidence to support the allegations of hangman nooses at its Baton Rouge complex.
The EEOC’s legal action against Exxon (sometimes called ExxonMobil) reminds employers of their legal obligations to stop such behavior to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment for everyone.
EEOC New Orleans Field Office director Michael Kirkland emphasized, “Even isolated displays of racially threatening symbols are unacceptable in American workplaces.”
The EEOC’s release said it attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement with ExxonMobil through a conciliation process, but was unsuccessful, hence the lawsuit.