Drilling co. ordered to give up employment records

AP News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2009 10:46 AM

A Houston-based oil and gas drilling company facing complaints of racial discrimination has been ordered to turn over its personnel records as part of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation.

The EEOC announced Tuesday that a federal judge ordered Patterson-UTI Drilling Co. to hand over information about current and former employees and complaints of employment discrimination for a two-year period. The EEOC is seeking name, race, position and last known contact information of each employee.

A Denver-based attorney representing Patterson-UTI declined comment, and company officials did not immediately return phone calls.

In a court document, the EEOC said it's investigating five complaints of racial harassment and discrimination, including a case involving Native American workers in North Dakota and an African American employee in Texas.

In the Texas case, the worker said white employees displayed a noose in a work area and used frequent racial epithets.

"When this employee complained, he was told that he `should buy a case of jars and put his feelings in it because it is always going to be a white man's oil field,'" according to a document filed in U.S. District Court.

In North Dakota, Native American workers were called by insulting names such as "eagle that can't talk" and were given the worst job assignments such as cleaning and scrubbing, not running the drill, according to the document.

When one of the workers complained, the company retaliated, the document says.

U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer gave Patterson-UTI until Dec. 23 to turn over employee records. Brimmer's ruling came after the company had argued that the EEOC's request for all its employee records was "irrelevant and immaterial," "overly broad" and "unduly burdensome."

Brimmer disagreed.

"Congress endowed the EEOC with broad investigatory powers," said Rayford Irvin, the commission's acting district director in Phoenix. "Preventing the agency from obtaining relevant information in our investigations, absent a showing of undue hardship, would be a restriction on our mandate to root out and eliminate employment discrimination."

Patterson-UTI Drilling, a unit of Patterson-UTI Energy Inc., provides oil and gas drilling services in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and western Canada.