Nooses & Racial Slurs in the Workplace Are Not that Uncommon

Mar 5 / Dr. Atyia Martin
Recently, Exxon Mobile was sued by the EEOC because they allege the petrochemical company failed to protect worker from harassment after nooses were displayed in its Baton Rouge complex. However, this is not as rare as people may think.

On July 22, 2021, The Washington Post published an article describing a rising trend of nooses at construction sites. "Black workers, who make up only 6 percent of the sector, have found many of the 55 nooses reported at 40 work sites since 2015."

The EEOC posted a running list of racial discrimination cases that include racial slurs and nooses in the workplace throughout the 21st century. Even as we transitioned from the 20th century, the EEOC shared their concerns over an increase of nooses in the workplace through the late 1990s into the early 2000s.

Racially offensive conduct can create a hostile environment and compromise safety and job performance. Legal experts will tell you that if you find a noose or other racially hostile or insensitive materials in your workspace, locker or other work setting, you may have a case for racial harassment. If you are an organization where an employee has reported these types of experiences, there is a legal obligation to take immediate action to stop it and reduce the likelihood of future occurrences.

What the EEOC Said about the Exxon Mobile Case

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a Black employee at ExxonMobil’s chemical plant found a hangman’s noose at his worksite in January 2020. At the time he reported the noose, ExxonMobil was aware that three other nooses had been displayed at the Baton Rouge complex, consisting of the chemical plant and a nearby refinery. The EEOC alleges that ExxonMobil investigated some, but not all, of the prior incidents and failed to take measures reasonably calculated to end the harassment.
“When employers become aware of racially offensive or threatening conduct in the workplace, they have a legal obligation to take prompt, remedial action aimed at stopping it,” said Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Houston District Office.
Michael Kirkland, director of the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office, added, “Even isolated displays of racially threatening symbols are unacceptable in American workplaces.”