Drilling Company to Pay $14.5 Million to Settle Race and National Origin Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation, Training Ordered

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Question:  Would discrimination and harassment training have prevented this case?  See our trainings at http://www.hrclassroom.com.

Patterson-UTI Drilling Company LLC, a Snyder, Texas-based multistate oil drilling company, will pay $14.5 million and furnish other relief to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (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 violates 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 (EEOC v. Patterson-UTI Drilling Company LLC, Case No. 15-cv-00600-WYD) in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, then Patterson and the EEOC filed a Consent Decree the same day resolving the case.

Last Friday, Denver Federal Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel signed and approved a consent decree settling the suit.  It 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 requires 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; and
  • hire and compensate a claims administrator to distribute the compensation to the victims.

Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). 

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