HOUSTON (CN) - A Texas oil driller "invented" a policy against cellphones to fire two black men who recorded white co-workers' using racial slurs, the men claim in court.
Kenneth Davis Jr. and David Hand sued Independence Contract Drilling on Friday in Federal Court.
The Houston-based publicly traded company custom-builds and operates shale drilling rigs in the Permian Basin, a 75,000-square-mile formation that stretches from West Texas to New Mexico.
Hand and Davis say they asked their boss, Bill Hays, for a transfer to another rig in June 2013 because they were tired of being bullied by white co-workers. "The transfer never happened," they say.
Independence Drilling is the only defendant.
The workers say the racism became hazardous when their white colleague Josh Allen didn't give them enough time to secure equipment, and pressurized water and chemicals sprayed Davis.
That same day, another white co-worker, Josh Faust, yelled at Davis to "Scrub harder, boy," Davis claims in the lawsuit.
Hand and Davis say they decided they needed proof to justify a rig transfer, so they placed their iPods on record in the rig's drilling station.
"The iPods recorded Allen saying that he hated living with everyone in the bunk house because he saw 'nigger hair' everywhere," the complaint states.
They told Hays about the comment, then left their iPods rolling a second time in the drilling station, Hand and Davis say.
The devices recorded Hays telling Faust and Allen about the first recording, the fired workers say.
"Faust stated that he 'should throw (Davis) off the rig floor and hang him from the side of the rig. ... Hays said that he did not like it when black guys came to him with 'racial stuff' and that he 'was not going to point the finger at any white boys,'" the complaint states. Hays was also recorded saying he would try to get Davis fired, Davis claims.
Hand and Davis say they were ordered to travel to Houston in July 2013 to discuss the issues with HR manager Bob Prophet, who suspended them without pay.
"Incredibly, Prophet contacted them a few days later to inform them that they had been terminated for violating ICD's cellphone policy. Prophet claimed that ICD's policy required them to leave their cell phones in their vehicles while on the worksite," the lawsuit states.
Hand and Davis say that rule was news to them, because "virtually everyone on the job site carried a cellphone while working." They say the so-called policy is "something that ICD made up on the fly to justify the retaliatory terminations."
Not only that, they say, they made the recordings with their iPods, not their cellphones. But they say that didn't matter to Prophet because he really fired them for recording co-workers for use as evidence.
The men filed discrimination claims in November 2013 with the EEOC, which authorized them to sue Independence Drilling on Jan. 13 this year.
They seek punitive damages for civil rights violations, and want their jobs back, or front pay, back pay and lost benefits.
They are represented by David Holmes in Houston.
An Independence Contract Drilling manager declined comment on the lawsuit.