Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texaco Case Raises Red Flag for Companies over Racism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texaco Case Raises Red Flag for Companies over Racism

Article excerpt

It could become the corporate equivalent of the Rodney King beating case.

The public airing this week of tape recordings of top executives at Texaco Inc. - berating minority workers with racial epithets and planning to destroy documents related to a discrimination lawsuit - is reverberating throughout corporate America.

The tapes offer a rare, unfiltered look at senior executives of one major American corporation. However typical or atypical the comments may be, they highlight a problem of racism that many minorities believe remains deeply ingrained in the business world. Coming at a time when affirmative-action policies are under fire, the Texaco case could embolden more minorities to file class-action discrimination suits against companies. At the least, analysts say, it will force a broad reevaluation of polices on diversity in the workplace. "This is almost like the corporate version of Rodney King," says Lawrence Otis Graham, an expert on workplace diversity and an author of several books on the topic. "It shows how deep bigotry still exists in corporate America." Texaco officials have moved swiftly to try to still the storm surrounding the tapes, in which corporate executives at a meeting in 1994 referred to black employees with racial slurs, mocked Kwanza and Hanukkah celebrations, and discussed destroying the documents on minority hiring, according to an affidavit filed with the court. Texaco, based in White Plains, N.Y., announced Wednesday that it suspended two employees and cut off benefits to two retirees said to be recorded on the tapes. It has also outlined steps to review company policies on discrimination and to better educate workers about the problem. "The statements on the tapes arouse a deep sense of shock and anger among all the members of the Texaco family and decent people everywhere," Texaco's chairman Peter Bijur said in a statement. He said the four executives on the tape made comments that "represent attitudes we hoped and wished had long ago disappeared." The racist statements were caught on cassette tapes by an executive, Richard Lundwall, who attended meetings of the company's finance department. After his position was eliminated, he retired, then later turned over the tapes to a lawyer whose clients had sued Texaco for discrimination. The tapes raise the stakes in that suit, brought against Texaco in early 1994 by six African-American employees on behalf of as many as 1,500 other minorities with the firm. The $520 million suit claims that Texaco systematically discriminates against minority employees in promotions and has fostered a racially hostile environment. In June, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a finding that Texaco had granted significantly fewer promotions between 1992 and 1994 to blacks than to other workers. …

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