More than two years after an explosion aboard its Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caused one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, British oil giant BP PLC (BP) is still being asked to pay out money.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Friday that BP Exploration and Production, Inc. has voluntarily agreed to pay up to $5.4 million to a group of women claiming they were denied jobs as clean-up workers because of their gender in the aftermath of the spill. The resolution comes out of an investigation by EEOC into complaints by several women in Louisiana and Alabama in 2010.
The EEOC did not reach a determination that BP broke antidiscrimination laws, and BP denies the allegations against it and its contractors in charge of the cleanup.
It's unclear under what circumstances the women were denied employment. Neither the EEOC nor BP would answer questions regarding the matter.
At the peak of the cleanup in July 2010, about 47,000 people were working on it, and up to 130,000 people are believed to have worked on the spill or have signed up to do so, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The federal government is currently studying 55,000 former cleanup workers to determine whether the workers are suffering negative health effects from chemical exposure during the cleanup.
Glenn McGovern, a New Orleans-based employment and personal injury lawyer, said in an interview that he had been contacted by several women in 2010 who claimed they had been discriminated against by BP or its contractors. "They specifically told [the women] they're not hiring women, they weren't strong enough, they couldn't take the heat," McGovern recalled the women saying.
He instructed the women to file complaints with the EEOC and then arrange to make an appointment with his office, but they never followed up with him, he said. It's unclear whether the EEOC ever filed a formal suit against BP in this case. A search of federal lawsuit database did not turn up any results, and an EEOC spokesman did not return calls requesting comment. In its press release, the EEOC wrote that the resolution will help the parties avoid "protracted litigation."
As part of the settlement, BP will be required to implement contractual safeguards to make sure its contractors obey antidiscrimination laws, provide training for administrators who work with contractors, and designate an employee to monitor the company's compliance with the settlement.
The group of women who will be eligible to collect payments under the $5.4 million settlement has not been determined yet, but those from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will be able to apply for the funds.
Write to Joseph Walker at Joseph.Walker@dowjones.com