Fired Black Exec at BP Told Her Dashiki Made Colleagues 'Uncomfortable,' Lawsuit Says
SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - BP fired a top executive after warning her that braiding her hair and wearing dashikis made her colleagues "uncomfortable," and that she should do so only "during 'culture day' [or] black history month," the former West Coast CFO claims in court.
Melphine Evans sued BP West Coast Products, BP Products North America and nine people, in Orange County Superior Court.
Evans claims she was fired after nearly 10 years with British Petroleum Oil Co. and replaced with a younger white male, after a series of overtly racial complaints.
Evans began working for BP in early 2001 as vice president of North America's Western Region, and was CFO BP West Coast Products in La Palma, Calif. when she was fired, according to her 24-page lawsuit.
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 are going to get you.'"
Asked for a comment, 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."
Dean said the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing dismissed a discrimination complaint Evans filed with the agency last year.
That Nov. 30, 2012 dismissal letter, attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit, states in part: "The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has closed your case for the following reason: Investigated and Dismissed - Withdrawn. Based upon its investigation, DFEH is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes a violation of the statute."
But Evans says in her lawsuit: "Although plaintiff's supervisors, [defendants] Rita Griffin and Nick Elmslie told her on the day they fired her, that she 'did not get along well with her teammates and colleagues' and that she regularly engaged in 'bullying and overly aggressive behavior,' the plaintiff's official 360 evaluative performance feedback reviews which were completed by teammates that were selected by defendant" included the statement: 'Melphine is a people person. She engages her entire organization and is sincere in her desire to ensure all are valued and heard.'"
Griffin complimented Evans for leadership skills less than three weeks before she fired her, according to the complaint.
Evans claims BP's reasons for firing her were pretextual, to cover for its "racist and sexist comments and actions and ... hostile and discriminatory treatment that was inconsistent with her similarly situated white counterparts at BP."
Evans seeks damages for race and gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination.
She is represented by Michael Taitelman, with Freedman + Taitelman, of Los Angeles.