Pipeline Companies Pay $1.75M to Settle Employee Harassment Lawsuit

Four oil and gas pipeline companies operating in Texas and New Mexico will pay $1.75 million to settle a harassment and retaliation lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said on Monday.

The EEOC's lawsuit alleged that Plains Pipeline, L.P., Plains All American GP, LLC, Plains Marketing, L.P. and Copperhead Pipeline and Construction, Inc. subjected employees to "severe or pervasive" harassment based on race, national origin and sex.

It also alleged that the companies retaliated against the 16 men by firing them for complaining about the harassment or associating with co-workers who complained.

The lawsuit, filed in September 2019, said that a Plains crew supervisor subjected the group of men to "frequent derogatory and unwelcome name calling."

Oil pipeline under construction
Four oil and pipeline companies have paid $1.75 million to settle a harassment lawsuit filed by 16 employees. The above photo shows an oil pipeline under construction near Odessa, Texas on April 24, 2020. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

That included using racial slurs to describe Black people, epithets about Mexican, Hispanic, and Native American people, and harassment based on their sex.

The employees also experienced frequent physical abuse that included "pinching, pushing, shoving, kneeing, and kicking," the lawsuit alleged.

The EEOC reached an agreement—a three-year consent decree which was reviewed by Newsweek—with the companies on Friday. The companies deny the allegations in the lawsuit, according to the consent decree.

But the settlement requires the companies to pay the men $1.75 million. Of that, Plains will pay $1.4 million while Copperhead will pay $350,000.

It also requires the companies to update their discrimination and retaliation policies. The companies also agreed to fire the alleged harasser and discipline the managers and supervisors who allegedly retaliated.

In a statement to Newsweek, Plains said the employees worked for Copperhead and denied the EEOC's characterization that it was a "joint employer."

"Our core values include treating people with fairness and respect and acting with the highest levels of honesty, ethics, and integrity," the statement said.

"The claimants were employed by Copperhead Pipeline and Construction, Inc., in 2017 and Plains denies that it was their 'joint employer;' however, we do not condone the conduct alleged in this complaint. Furthermore, our interests are aligned with the EEOC in ensuring that our employees fully understand that harassment and retaliation are not tolerated at Plains."

Newsweek reached out to Copperhead for further comment.

"This type of harassment once tolerated in the oilfield as 'boys being boys,' has no place in any work environment, but is particularly dangerous in a hazardous environment such as working on oil and gas pipelines," Jeff Lee, an EEOC trial attorney who handled the case, said in a statement.

"No one should have to put up with insults or derogatory remarks about their race or national origin just to earn a living," added EEOC chair Charlotte A. Burrows. "But that has been the experience for many Black, Native American and Hispanic workers in high-risk, infrastructure jobs, and it's way past time for that to end.

"This settlement helps brings justice to the individuals who suffered demeaning and dangerous harassment, and also secures real changes that will promote equal employment opportunities for all employees in these workplaces."

Update 8/11/22, 8:20 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with the full statement from Plains.