- Four oil and gas companies agreed to pay $1.75 million to resolve allegations of systemic harassment and retaliation against 16 former workers, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced August 8 (EEOC v. Plains Pipeline, L.P., No. 20-00082 (D. N.M. 2019)).
- The lead foreman at a Permian Basin pipeline in New Mexico allegedly harassed, threatened and assaulted male workers because they were African-American, biracial, Mexican and/or Native American, according to the EEOC’s lawsuit. In particular, the foreman frequently shoved, kneed, kicked, jabbed and sexually touched the men and called them profanity-laced racial and sexually-tinged slurs, the lawsuit alleged.
- Several of the men were fired because they complained; others were allegedly fired for associating with the men who complained, according to the lawsuit. “This type of harassment, once tolerated in the oilfield as ‘boys being boys,’ has no place in any work environment, but is particularly dangerous in a hazardous environment such as working on the oil and gas pipelines,” EEOC trial attorney Jeff Lee said in the announcement.
Systemic discrimination often refers to bias that is built into a system, according to EEOC. It can show up as a pattern of behavior developed within an organization that disadvantages certain individuals and harms productivity.
In workplaces where safety hazards are a part of the job, systemic and aggressive harassment, such as what was alleged here, reportedly can exacerbate the risk of serious injury. For oil and gas workers, the risk is high: Occupational fatalities of workers in extraction jobs, together with fatalities of workers in the transportation and construction industries, accounted for nearly half of all fatal occupational injuries, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 census report on workplace fatalities found.
Regardless of the industry, systemic assault, harassment and discrimination can become deeply entrenched in the workplace when employees are afraid to report it, experts have said. Single-sex dominated workplaces or workplace cultures that condone crude remarks, jokes or demeaning banter can be particular risk factors for systemic harassment and discrimination, EEOC said. In such cultures, employees may be viewed as weak or susceptible to abuse, or abusive remarks or humor may promote workplace norms that devalue certain individuals, the agency explained.
To address these risk factors, EEOC suggested that an organization’s highest level of leadership proactively and intentionally create a culture of civility and that management pay attention to relations among and within work groups.