Black rig worker alleges crew chief's KKK membership created hostile environment

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Mar. 25, 2009, 10:00am

MARSHALL � The only black employee of an east Texas drilling company claims his crew chief's admission of membership in the Ku Klux Klan and repeated acts of racial bias created an intolerable work environment.

The worker claims he was eventually fired because he complained about the discrimination and has been denied unemployment benefits.

Artabus Driver filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against Felderhoff Brothers Drilling Co. Inc. on March 20 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

According to the complaint, Driver's crew leader said he helped found a San Angelo group of the KKK and also distributed leaflets and Confederate flag stickers to crew members who displayed the stickers on their hard hats, personal cell phones, cars and trucks.

Driver, the only black employee, claims he was not only offended but feared for his safety.

In his lawsuit, Driver claims he reported the incidents to his supervisor and believes the supervisor reported the behavior to the home office. He states a meeting was held to address the issues but it was unproductive and the incidents continued.

The lawsuit alleges the defendant "created, maintained and condoned a hostile work environment against African Americans." In addition, the complaint accuses the defendant of knowing of the harassment but failing to take appropriate remedial action.

Hired as a floor hand on an oil and gas drilling rig in 2007, Driver was the only black man on a crew with 10 white men.

On his first day on the job, Driver states he was informed that his crew leader "did not like black people" and claims the crew leader told fellow employees that he would not sleep in the bunkhouse with Driver.

Driver states that the crew leader told him, "You are not staying in the bunkhouse so you have no business being in here." Driver claims he was forced to use a portable toilet and not the bunkhouse's shower or restroom facilities.

As one of two floor hands, the plaintiff alleges that he was routinely excluded from gatherings or told to perform menial tasks instead of getting lunch breaks while the white floor hand was not.

Further, Driver alleges that the crew leader would swing heavy metal tongs into his side or back, but took great care in avoiding striking the white floor hand.

Due to many alleged incidents, racial slurs and discriminatory actions, Driver claims he was so offended and concerned for his safety that he was afraid to stay on the job site during his 12-hour off period. He states that after each shift he would leave the site instead of staying at the bunkhouse and return to his home, sometimes driving more than three hours.

In an effort to stem the racial discrimination, Driver claims he informed another supervisor. But after the supervisor held a crew meeting, the discrimination escalated. Again, Driver says he complained of the treatment and he was finally transferred to another crew.

Shortly after being on the new crew and after two months of working for the defendant, Driver was injured in a work-related accident.

While working to clean up a drill platform, Driver twisted his ankle, causing a ruptured tendon in his ankle and a partially torn Achilles tendon in his heel. According to the complaint, the doctor did not release Driver back to work until a year later and then the work was to be sedentary light duty only.

When he returned to his old crew in April, Driver claims he was told to run carrying a 50-pound sack in the rain and mud. When he refused, he states the crew leader told him to leave and not come back. According to Driver, the other supervisor supported the crew leader's decision.

When Driver sought unemployment benefits, he was told he was fired due to "misconduct not related to work."

Driver is seeking damages for back pay, wages, salary and fringe benefits, future loss of income, emotional distress, mental anguish, pain and suffering, attorney fees, court costs, pre and post judgment interest.

Seeking punitive damages, the complaint alleges the defendant's actions were committed with malice and reckless disregard for Driver's civil rights.

According to the Felderhoff Brothers website, the 59-year-old company operates 22 drilling rigs with the capability of drilling up to 18,000 feet, with yard locations in Gainesville and Jacksboro, Texas.

"All rigs are fully supported by experienced superintendents, tool pushers, mechanics and electricians," the website maintains.

The plaintiff is represented by Dallas attorneys Greg H. Bevel and Kerry Ann Miller of the law firm Rochelle McCullough LLP.
Jury trial is requested.

U.S. District Judge T. John Ward will preside over the litigation.

Case No: 2:2009cv00084

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