Class Action Against BP Alleges Racial Discrimination in Oil Mess - The Houston Employment Law Blog

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Class Action Against BP Alleges Racial Discrimination in Oil Mess

The British Petroleum Oil Spill did much to ruin the livelihood of the fishing community in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the area’s fisheries were driven out of business in the aftermath of what may have been the largest environmental disaster in history.

BP attempted to help tide over some of the fishermen by hiring them to assist in the cleanup efforts. However, it seems that they may have been choosing their charitable recipients based on race, reports The Louisiana Weekly.

A lawsuit, filed last month, alleges that BP hired an overwhelmingly non-Asian workforce, even though the majority of the fishermen in the area are Asian-American. The numbers illustrate the issue more than words ever could. Over half of the fishermen affected by the spill were Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans. They only made up less than 10 percent of the workforce hired for cleanup.

Attorney Ryan Beasley, of Harvey, Louisiana, represents the class. His suit on their behalf states that during the cleanup program, BP sent emails to Danos and Curole Marine Contractors, LLC in Larose, La. and DRC Emergency Services, LLC, in Mobile, Ala., telling them not to hire vessels owned by Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans.

If these emails are the metaphorical smoking gun that they sound like, this could cost BP a lot of money.

BP may have avoided hiring Asian-Americans due to language barriers and the increased cost of having translators on staff. If so, is this an example of the old adage, penny-wise and pound-foolish?

Racial discrimination in employment decisions is obviously against the law. The remedy for such violations is usually via filing the catch-all Section 1983 action for alleged violations of Constitutional rights. The action emerges out of Civil Rights litigation and allows anyone who has had their civil rights violated, whether it be through employment decisions or police brutality, to sue for damages.

Because of the large number of potential litigants, a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all of those discriminated against was filed. Class-actions allow litigants on both sides to save time and money by not litigating a claim in thousands of individual cases. It also keeps the court system from collapsing under the load.

In BP's defense, they did hire some translators for the workers that they did end up hiring. And their hiring practices may not have been motivated by race at all; some have speculated that they were motivated instead to hire non-local contractors to maintain confidentiality as to the extent of the spill and the damage. There is a lot of evidence to support these claims as well.

Whether this results in a mountain of legal fees, quick settlements, or a massive judgment against them, it looks like the bill for BP's oil spill just got that much more expensive.

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