Judge names Houston attorney to monitor company

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2009 4:28 PM

A Houston lawyer will serve as a court-appointed ombudsman to monitor a venerable Texas company that has been cited for discriminating against black employees.

Tony P. Rosenstein, an employment lawyer with the Houston firm Baker Botts, will investigate complaints from Lufkin Industries employees and act to resolve them, according to an injunction issued Friday by U.S. District Judge Ron Clark of Beaumont.

The injunction is part of the resolution of a class-action lawsuit brought against the 107-year-old company by black workers 12 years ago.

Clark ruled last June that Lufkin Industries' more than 1,000 current and former black employees are due to divvy up back pay and interest of approximately $5.5 million. The judge awarded the damages as compensation for what he called the company's unlawful discrimination in awarding promotions.

Lufkin Industries, publicly traded since 1990, manufactures oil field equipment and industrial gearboxes. It employs about 1,200 in Lufkin, a city of 33,000 about 120 miles northeast of Houston, making it one of the area's largest employers.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Tim Garrigan of Nacogdoches, said the appointment of an ombudsman is significant.

"These remedial orders have been a long time in coming," Garrigan said, "but we're hopeful they will make Lufkin a better place to work."

Company president and chief executive Jay Glick declined comment.

The injunction, which will remain in effect for five years, requires Lufkin Industries to provide its employees with a toll-free number to contact Rosenstein. Besides dealing with complaints, the ombudsman will audit promotion procedures and related decisions. He will report quarterly to the court.

In a separate ruling Tuesday, Clark reiterated the amount of the damage award and clarified how the money will be administered.

Lead plaintiff Sylvester McClain, who worked at Lufkin Industries for 36 years before retiring in 2008, said he was "elated" by the rulings because they're key steps toward closing the lawsuit.

"People all over have been watching this lawsuit, because it's been on the books so long," he said.