Fracking Company Fired Black Employee After He Complained That Coworkers Used a White Hood to Harass Him, Federal Agency Charged
HOUSTON -A Houston manufacturer of equipment used in hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") has agreed to pay a former employee $120,000 and provide other relief to settle a retaliatory discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged Downhole Technology, LLC with violating federal law when it retaliated against employee Kenneth Echols after he complained that he had been racially harassed. Echols, who is African-American, reported that his coworkers had used a white hood - evocative of the type used by the Ku Klux Klan - to intimidate, ridicule, and insult him. The EEOC alleged that in response to Echols's complaint, the company told him that the incident was meant as a joke. The company then fired Echols for refusing to sign a declaration stating that it had adequately responded to his complaint regarding the incident. Before reporting the incident, Echols's record with the company was unblemished, the EEOC said.
This conduct, the EEOC said, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against - or allowing coworkers to harass - an employee because of the employee's race. That act also prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for reporting discrimination, including harassment.
The EEOC filed its lawsuit (Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-00574) in the Houston Division of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the EEOC and the company resolved the claim, which led to the two-year consent decree announced today.
Under that decree, Downhole Technology will pay Echols $120,000 in monetary relief and will provide a variety of other, non-monetary relief. For instance, the decree requires that Downhole train its employees, including its supervisors, on the requirements imposed by Title VII, and also educate them about the history of hate groups, their symbols and the harm they cause to others. Downhole will also revamp its anti-discrimination policy and establish a toll-free telephone number through which employees will be able to report discrimination and harassment.
"This settlement is both fair and just," said Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for the EEOC's Houston District Office. "I'm confident that Downhole is now as committed as we are in ensuring that incidents of race-based harassment are treated with the seriousness and gravity the law demands."
The EEOC's Houston District Office has jurisdiction over parts of Texas and all of Louisiana.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.