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Former oil company executive says she was fired for ‘ethnic’ look

Several months ago, we discussed a case in which a Muslim salesperson at an Abercrombie & Fitch store was allegedly terminated for wearing a headscarf mandated by her faith. Now there is a case here in Southern California in which a former executive with British Petroleum says that she was fired for wearing traditional African apparel and wearing her hair in braids.

The former chief financial officer of a division of BP in La Palma is suing BP Products North America as well as the office in which she worked since 2008 and nine employees. Her charges include harassment, discrimination (based both on her gender and race), wrongful termination and retaliation.

According to the suit, the CFO, who is African-American, was reprimanded by her superiors for braiding her hair and wearing dashikis. She says she was informed that fellow employees were uncomfortable and intimidated by her “ethnic clothing and ethnic hairstyles.” She says she was told to limit that look to specific days set aside to celebrate diversity and to “alert people in advance” if she was going to wear ethnic attire.

A complaint filed by the plaintiff with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing last year was dismissed, and BP has publicly denied the plaintiff’s allegations, saying that it plans to fight the suit. While the company has reportedly accused the plaintiff of “bullying and overly aggressive behavior,” she contends that this was just an excuse for firing her. The woman, who joined BP in 2001, points to a highly-positive performance review she received that touted her people skills.

Companies often have to pay the price (and a hefty one, at that) for the prejudices and intolerant words or actions of a few managers. The outcome of this case could hinge on just how much the plaintiff is able to prove. However, it could come down to whom a judge or jury finds most believable, and BP has certainly had its issues with credibility in the past few years. It is essential that people who believe they were discriminated against in the workplace or fired seek the assistance of a legal representative who can help them make their case – particularly when going up against a powerful organization like BP.

OC Weekly, “Melphine Evans Claims She Was Fired as BP Oil Executive Over Dashikis and Braided Hair” Matt Coker, Dec. 06, 2013

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