Playing the Corporate Race Card: Texaco Scandal Shows Glass Ceiling Remains Uncomfortably Low in Corporate America

By Smith, Eric L. | Black Enterprise, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Playing the Corporate Race Card: Texaco Scandal Shows Glass Ceiling Remains Uncomfortably Low in Corporate America


Smith, Eric L., Black Enterprise


Affirmative action has served its purpose and should be eliminated. Just ask the majority of voters in California who, with the sweeping passage of Proposition 209, effectively wiped out affirmative action practices throughout the state. And why not? The playing field has already been leveled, hasn't it? Just work hard and you'll get ahead - right?

But what then of the dirty little predicament over at Texaco, where several top executives - including since-retired Treasurer Robert W. Ulrich - were exposed on tape using racial slurs to refer to African American employees. (Texaco's lawyers say an enhanced version of the tapes show no slurs were spoken.) The references were made as they plotted to destroy documents relating to a $540 million class-action lawsuit brought against Texaco on behalf of its 1,500 African American employees. The workers say they were systematically denied promotions and advancement opportunities because of their race.

After the tape went public, Texaco announced it would pay $115 million to about 1,400 current and former employees and give all African American workers a 10% raise. The agreement, which totals more than $176.1 million, is the largest settlement of a racial discrimination case in U.S history.

And while Texaco Chairman and CEO Peter I. Bijur offered a quick apology and suspended - with pay - the two executives involved who still work at Texaco, the incident drew swift responses from the NAACP, Operation Push and the Anti-Defamation League. Both the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Kweisi Mfume met with Bijur soon after the tape became public. Mfume requested that Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh investigate whether criminal or civil rights laws were violated The former Maryland congressman says the comments from Texaco employees are symptomatic of a larger intolerance that is often accepted in corporate America, and suggested that the NAACP might explore boycotts, stock divestiture campaigns or targeted picketing. …

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