A former top executive for British Petroleum says she was fired from the company after being warned about her hairstyle and attire. Melphine Evans sued BP West Coast Products, BP North America and nine people in Orange County Superior Court.
Evans, who served as the company’s vice president of North America’s Western region for nearly a decade, says she was let go and replaced by a younger white man after a series of racist complaints.
She claims that her supervisors and other management responded to her complaints of race and gender discrimination “by telling her she ‘was the problem” and with a litany of insensitive remarks. According to the lawsuit, these remarks included:
“You intimidate and make your colleagues uncomfortable by wearing ethnic clothing and ethnic hairstyles (‘Dashikis,’ ‘twists,’ ‘braids/cornrows’). On one occasion, a BP representative went so far as to ask Ms. Evans ‘if she understood that wearing a “dashiki” to work makes her colleagues feel uncomfortable?'”
“if you insist on wearing ethnic clothing/hairstyles-you should only do so during ‘culture day,’ black history month or special diversity events/days.”
“If you are going to wear ethnic clothing, you should alert people in advance that you will be wearing something ethnic…”
“We didn’t take any action against the contractor who placed the noose in the Cherry Point refinery because we weren’t really sure the rope that was placed there was meant to harass or intimidate employees..sometimes refinery employees practice tying knots and since there aren’t that many black employees at the refinery and the knot in the rope was not tied like a noose knot, we don’t believe it symbolized racial hatred or violence…”
“They hate you and they’re going to get you.”
BP spokesman Scott Dean told Courthouse News: “Generally, BP does not publicly discuss personnel issues. However, BP treats all employees fairly. BP disagrees with the claims and will vigorously defend the suit.” According to Dean, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing dismissed a discrimination complaint Evans filed with the agency last year.
The company told Evans that she was being terminated due to her inability to get along with co-workers, citing her “bullying and overly aggressive behavior.” But past performance reviews attached to court documents state that “Melphine is a people person. She engages her entire organization and is sincere in her desire to ensure all are valued and heard.”
Evans is seeking damages for race and gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination.
Will we ever get to a place where cultural diversity is not just verbally advocated for in company policy, but thoroughly practiced?
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