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Press Release 07-17-2012

West Texas Oil Field Service Company Settles EEOC National Origin Harassment Suit Mid-Trial

Hispanic Boss Menacingly Mistreated Crew  He Called 'Wetbacks' Because of Their Mexican Heritage

DALLAS  – Midland, Texas-based Blue Ridge Resources, L.L.C. has settled a national  origin harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity  Commission (EEOC) on the second day of trial, before the case was submitted to  the jury, the federal agency announced today. The settle­ment pays three former oil field service crew members $43,000  in damages for the mistreat­ment and provides extensive injunctive relief to  prevent future unlawful conduct.

The  EEOC's suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Midland/  Odessa Division (7:10-CV-00117-RAJ), charged that Blue Ridge Resources subjected  three former oil rig workers to a hostile work environ­ment based on their  Mexican national origin.  The discrimin­ation  alleged was at the hands of a supervisor who repeatedly referred to the  subordinates as "wet­backs" irrespective of the fact that one was born in the United States and the other two are permanent  residents who have been authorized to work in the U.S. for decades.  

According  to the EEOC, Blue Ridge's crew supervisor over  the rig, George Gutierrez -- who is also of Mexican national origin --  subjected the three field workers to daily slurs based on their Mexican  heritage, including, "wetbacks" and "dirty Mexicans."  The EEOC further charged that Gutierrez, who  had admitted to a nickname of "Wetback Killer," would deny the men water while  working in the unrelenting heat of West Texas,  telling them that "wetbacks don't need no water."  The first victim to testify at the trial,  which started on April 30, told the jury that Gutierrez threatened to fire him  if he went over the harasser's head to complain.   The EEOC also argued that although top  management at Blue Ridge did not engage in the  harassment, the company was ultimately responsible for lack of training of its  supervisor and for never having spoken with the workers about the supervisor's  alleged conduct even after the matter came to their attention.

National  origin harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, even when  the harasser is the same national origin as the victim.  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to  reach a pre-litigation settle­ment through its conciliation process.  Midland attorney Holly B. Williams inter­vened  in the EEOC's case on behalf of one of the victims.

"This was an outrageous case of hard-working and vulnerable  field workers who were abused by a boss who shared the same heritage as his  victims," said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Devika Seth, the lead attorney on the  case.  "We hope that this settlement  sends a message to employers – including those in the oil industry – that a dismissive  approach to what goes on out in the field will not be tolerated."

In addition to the monetary relief,  the consent decree signed by U.S. District Judge Robert Junell on July 13,  2012, requires the company to:

  • revise its discrimination policy to include  national origin harassment, and procedures to ensure that employee complaints  are addressed while providing multiple avenues for reporting violations;
  • conduct annual training for five years on laws  against national origin harassment in the workplace, and the proper procedure  for investigation of complaints; and
  • post an anti-discrimination policy notice – in  English and Spanish – at its office and shop.

EEOC  Dallas District Director Janet Elizondo said, "These men were subjected to a  hostile environment of fear, insults and intimidation, while options for good  paying jobs elsewhere were limited.  This  injunctive relief in an industry where communication may be a challenge due to  the remoteness of assigned loca­tions is important to the concept of promoting  employer accountability, wherever the job site may be."

 "Condescending or  hostile attitudes and prejudices against persons of Mexican or Latin-American  ancestry unfortunately remain all too common," said Robert A. Canino, regional  attorney of the EEOC's Dallas District Office.    "As we saw in this case, some Hispanic supervisors may even try to  distance themselves from their Hispanic subordinates and mistreat them so as to  separate themselves in the eyes of non-Latino business owners and  operators." 

The  EEOC enforces federal laws that prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the agency is  available on its web site at