Texaco: Case Study of Corporate Racism

Revolutionary Worker #883, November 24, 1996

People who want to get rid of affirmative action say that "discrimination" is a thing of the past and that such programs are no longer needed. They argue that at universities and corporations, there is now a "level playing field." But this is a lie. And the recent scandal at Texaco provides a stark picture of the systematic institutional racism that exists in this country.

Senior executives at Texaco were caught on tape making all kinds of racist remarks and plotting to destroy documents subpoenaed in a federal discrimination case. These tapes provide a look at what goes on every day in corporate offices all over the United States.

On paper, Texaco was "committed to diversity" and the recruitment of "minority employees." They had "equal-opportunity programs" and glossy booklets that claimed: "Each person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity...without regard to race, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability or position in the company." But the real deal at Texaco was a nightmare for Black, Latino and other oppressed nationalities.

In 1994, Texaco--the 14th largest U.S. corporation--was hit by a $520 million racial bias suit. The suit, filed by six African-American employees on behalf of 1,500 other employees, asserted that Texaco "systematically discriminates against minority employees in promotions and has fostered a racially hostile environment."

Dozens of Black employees have testified about racist incidents at Texaco. Frequently, they were afraid to speak out at the time, for fear of losing their jobs.

Some employees say they were called "orangutans," "porch monkeys" and "uppity" for asking questions. One woman said she was called a "smart-mouthed little colored girl." Another Black employee said, "I have had `KKK' printed on my car. I have had my car tires slashed and racial slurs written about me on bathroom walls." Another testified, "Throughout my employment, three supervisors in my department openly discussed their view that African-Americans are ignorant and incompetent, and, specifically, that Thurgood Marshall was the most incompetent person they had ever seen."

Luci J. Turner, who is Native American, is also suing Texaco. She was dismissed by Texaco two years ago from her position as a cashier in Kennesaw, Georgia. She says one of her white supervisors was constantly making comments about "dumb Indians" to her and that another supervisor also made racist remarks about Indians.

In 1988, Sheryl Joseph was a secretary at Texaco's office in Harvey, Louisiana. She told her fellow workers the good news that she was pregnant. When the office had a birthday party for Sheryl, the boss walked in with a birthday cake. It had a picture of a Black pregnant woman, with dark skin and a huge Afro--Sheryl had never had an Afro and is light-skinned. The inscription on the cake said, "Happy Birthday Sheryl--It must have been those watermelon seeds."

Sheryl said, "When I saw the inscription, I just kind of stared at it and said, `Oh, thank you,' I didn't feel I could get angry. I had just found out I was pregnant. I needed my job." Sheryl Joseph has since left Texaco, but she says this is just one example in a long list of racist incidents she experienced while working there.

When Black employees did dare to speak out against the racism at Texaco, they were either ignored or punished.

Mary Devorce, a Black woman accountant in Texaco's Denver office, filed a complaint with the government in 1991 contending she had been subjected to racism at Texaco. When her manager, Michael Moccio, got the complaint he assured Ms. Devorce that her job was safe and that Texaco would treat her fairly. He even offered to give her new assignments that would remove her from her present work situation. Moccio, who is white, then called his supervisor, Jim Woolly, a white assistant controller in Houston, and told him how he had handled the situation. Moccio says Woolly then told him, "I'd fire her black ass." When Moccio responded by saying that they couldn't fire someone for claiming to be a victim of discrimination, Woolly said, "I guess we treat n*ggers differently down here."

When audiotapes of Texaco executives making racist remarks became public, this only confirmed what Black employees in the discrimination suit had been saying all along. (See "Caught on Tape" for quotes from these recordings.)

In August 1994, Richard A. Lundwall was the senior coordinator of personnel services in Texaco's finance department. He was responsible for keeping minutes of meetings with some senior executives. Lundwall says he recorded the meetings to make sure his minutes were accurate. But Lundwall didn't tell the other executives at the meetings they were being recorded. In August, Lundwall, who is now retired, turned these tapes over to the lawyers who were handling the discrimination suit for the plaintiffs.

After the Texaco tapes became public, top executives at the corporation desperately tried to launch a campaign of damage control. There were contrite press conferences and statements and announcements about new policies to implement equal opportunity and diversity. On November 15, Texaco announced it was willing to settle the discrimination suit by paying out more than $140 million. Texaco's top management has been trying to say the remarks on the tapes were a deplorable aberration. But as Black employees at Texaco have testified, they see racism around them all the time at the company.

Beri-Ellin Roberts, a Black manager who is one of those bringing the lawsuit against Texaco, said the tapes showed proof of their accusations: "It sounded like a Klan meeting. And nobody seemed to object to what everybody was saying." Another senior financial analyst at Texaco who is Black also said he found the language in the tapes familiar. He said he "wasn't at all surprised" and that the tapes were similar to "what I heard in the office."

In fact, the tapes are just a tiny peek at the larger, widespread situation at Texaco. The New York Times recently obtained thousands of pages of sealed court records, as well as government documents, corporate records and sworn depositions, that expose how systematic, racist policies thrive at Texaco.

African-Americans make up some 12 percent of the U.S. population. But according to these documents, of the 873 executives at Texaco who make more than $106,000 a year, only six--or 0.7 percent--are Black. And while the number of executives in the highest pay grade has grown 44 percent over the last four years, to almost 5 percent, not a single Black person has held such a job.

Texaco has a long history of being resistant and even hostile to Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed nationalities. Texaco was formed in 1901 by Joseph Cullinan, better known as Buckskin Joe. And for decades, Texaco prided itself as industry "bad boy." In its early days Texaco flew the skull and crossbones over its offices to symbolize its take-no-prisoners mentality, and it was known for its ultimate old-boys network.

In 1990, after a Labor Department audit found Texaco was extremely negligent in the hiring and promotion of minority employees, Texaco started some recruiting efforts aimed at Blacks and other oppressed nationalities. As a result, the percentage of female and minority-group executives at the company went up a little. From 1989 to 1994, women employees went from 24 percent to 30 percent. And Black and other oppressed nationality employees went from 15 percent to 19 percent.

But these tiny changes in the lily-white environment at Texaco didn't bring about more tolerance. Instead, they resulted in more openly hostile racism. And systematic discrimination in hiring and promotions continued.

An oil-industry survey conducted by the Mobil Corporation using 1993 data showed that Texaco had a below-average percentage of Black people in every salary bracket over $50,000. And a 1996 audit of an important Texaco division by the Department of Labor found that on a job-by-job basis, Blacks and other minority employees had to wait far longer than whites for promotion and were far less likely to receive evaluations that would help them in their careers:

Sealed court documents show that some of Texaco's promotions programs seemed designed to keep out Black and other oppressed nationality employees. For example, Texaco began a program to post job openings within the company, but it excluded any jobs above pay level 16, the beginning point for senior executives. For jobs above that level, workers have to depend on word of mouth from the human-resources committees, some of which are all white.

Court papers also reveal that Texaco uses a secret job-promotion program, known as the "high-potential lists," that include employees selected for grooming by management. No standardized, objective criteria are used in selecting employees for these lists. Instead, decisions on promotions are left to the subjective--and many times racist--judgment of managers. Of the 178 employees selected for a high-potential list in 1994, only six were Black.

The reality is that, while Texaco distributes sleek looking brochures about "equal opportunity" and has policies against discrimination, Black and other oppressed nationalities working at Texaco are constantly subjected to racism--both behind the scenes and in an openly hostile atmosphere. And this situation at Texaco is undoubtedly not that different from what goes on all the time in thousands of other U.S. corporations.

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