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Victory for Victims of Racism at Lufkin Industries

October 24, 2009

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported the $5.5 million judgment (plus legal fees of another $5.6 million) against Lufkin Industries for years of discrimination the company perpetrated against African American employees. Testimony and documents exposed through the 12-year lawsuit demonstrated that Lufkin channeled black employees into the harshest foundry jobs, and passed black workers over for promotions more than 100 times.

Lufkin is a leading producer of oilfield machinery and electrical equipment (and, until 2008, of truck trailers), and one of the largest employers in East Texas. In 2009, the company laid-off 16% of its workforce; company revenue was almost $600 million in 2008.

A judge in the case earlier stated, “Lufkin Industries has been profiting for years from its policy of unlawful discrimination,” noting many black employees had worked at the company for decades. Two of the lead plaintiffs were considered for upper management positions before being denied; one was told outright not to bother applying for any senior jobs. A lawyer for the former employees described the Lufkin foundry as “hot, dark, dirty, ankle deep in dust, with flames leaping out of the darkness just a few feet away from you.”

In a previous suit against Lufkin Industries, employee Lewis Herrera charged the company with discrimination and creating a racially hostile environment. Herrera had also been passed over for promotions, and supervisors regularly referred to him as “the fucking Mexican.” Lufkin did not deny the racial epithets, but judges initially attributed the abuse to the “rough and tumble” conditions of the workplace, and denied Herrera’s claim. An appeals court overturned the ruling.

The town of Lufkin, where the company is headquartered, is also repeatedly in the news for Ku Klux Klan activities. Last year, the Klan planned a cross-burning assembly in Lufkin, and earlier this year Klan flyers were found in driveways around town. The town newspaper the Lufkin Daily News recounts their coverage of the Klan’s history in the area:

As was the case with virtually every Southern newspaper editor of that era, (our editors) rarely wrote about blacks, unless it was to report someone accused of a crime. Occasionally, the death of a well-respected elderly black person might rate a mention, but coverage was invariably negative and the use of racial slurs common. A Ku Klux Klan initiation in Angelina County that reportedly drew 5,000 spectators in 1922 received positive mention, while the lynching of a black man outside of Livingston for supposedly making indecent proposals to a white farmer’s wife was matter-of-factly reported.

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