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Employees Accuse Oil Service Firms of Racial, Ethnic Harassment

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At least 15 people have accused an oil field service company operating in Edgerton of creating a hostile work environment in violation of civil rights laws, according to court documents.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Wyoming U.S. Attorney’s Office have sued Dart Energy and its subsidiary J&R Well Service for making offensive racial and ethnic slurs against Native American, black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic employees

The EEOC filed its initial complaint on Sept. 9, and filed a new, amended complaint on June 17.

Dart Energy and J&R Well Service have not yet responded to the amended complaint, but they through their attorney Amanda Esch of Cheyenne denied the allegations of discrimination after the original complaint. The companies want the court to dismiss the EEOC’s lawsuit, saying some of the employees’ allegations are incomplete or are legally too late to be considered.

Neither Esch nor a U.S. Attorney spokesman returned phone calls seeking comment on the case.

The harassment started in 2005, according to the original and amended complaints filed by the EEOC and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in U.S. District Court.

Two company managers, truck supervisor Ken Nelson and area manager Jim Ferguson, were responsible for many of the most offensive slurs, according to the amended complaint:

  • They referred to Native Americans with terms such as “wagon burner,” “dumb Indian,” “redskin,” and “blanket ass,” according to the amended complaint.
  • “Mr. Nelson made comments to the effect of ‘Custer should have killed all the Indians,’ “Indians are all drunks and can’t hold jobs,’ and ‘Indians are too stupid to understand their jobs.'”
  • Nelson and Ferguson referred to Hispanic employees with terms such as “burrito boy,” “spic,” “dirty Mexican,” and “beaner.”
  • At least once, Nelson said Mexicans were responsible for spreading swine flu.
  • Nelson and Ferguson referred to blacks as “n—-rs,” and Ferguson threw away job applicants from blacks.
  • More than once, Nelson told minority workers, “this is a white man’s job. If you can’t handle it, leave.”
  • On multiple occasions Ferguson was present when Nelson made offensive comments, but did nothing to stop the use of the racial and ethnic slurs.

The lawsuit also claims the plaintiffs were disciplined more harshly than their white peers for similar infractions, they did not receive as many hours to work, and they were given less desirable assignments than their peers.

The hostile work environment compelled several non-white employees to resign, according to the complaint. “Many employees felt afraid to complain about the offensive racial and/or ethnic comments and other disparate treatment that they experienced.”

Some employees who filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC were subject to retaliation and discharge, according to the complaint.

The EEOC had invited Dart Energy and J&R Well Service to resolve the concerns, but the EEOC was not able to acquire an acceptable conciliation, which lead to the lawsuit.

The EEOC wants the court to stop the companies from its discriminatory practices, stop them from retaliating against employees who file grievances, order them to create and carry out nondiscrimination policies, order them to provide back pay and benefits, provide compensation for emotional pain and suffering, and pay punitive damages.

A jury trial in the case has been set for April 20, 2015, in Casper before U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl.

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