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N.D. Oil Company Settles Federal Racial Discrimination Suit

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Williston-based oil field service company will pay $250,000 to a worker it fired after he complained of harassment to settle a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit filed a year ago alleged that a white manager for American Casing & Equipment Inc. harassed Matthew Clark, a worker of Filipino heritage who came to the North Dakota oil patch from his home state of Washington, by directing racial slurs at him, jabbing him with a finger in the stomach and chest, and once urinating on his leg while he worked under a truck.

"This case has conduct that clearly shocks the conscience of any decent human being," attorney Joshua Newville, who represented Clark, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The EEOC said the harassment began in November 2012 and continued for more than a year, and that a supervisor made no attempt to stop it. Clark ultimately was fired in January 2014 when he complained to the company's safety manager, the federal agency said.

"They cannot simply ignore harassment and fire employees who complain about being abused rather than doing something about it," Tina Burnside, an EEOC attorney in Minneapolis, said in a statement.

In a court filing last year, the company denied the allegations and maintained that Clark was an "at-will" employee, meaning he could be fired at any time. Under U.S. labor law, an at-will employee can be dismissed without warning for any reason other than an illegal one, unless the presumption is modified by an employment contract, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Defense attorney Nicholas Grant was out of the office on Wednesday and did not immediately respond to an emailed Associated Press request for comment on why the company chose to settle.

Under the settlement reached earlier this month and approved Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland in Bismarck, American Casing and Equipment will pay $250,000 to Clark and train all employees on the federal law prohibiting racial discrimination and retaliation.

"This settlement sends a strong message to employers that race and national origin harassment and retaliation will not be tolerated in the workplace," John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District, said in a statement. "EEOC hopes that the changes implemented under the consent decree will serve as a model for creating a workplace free of discrimination in the oil field service industry."

American Casing and Equipment has operated for nearly a quarter century in the Williston Basin oil production area in the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. The company provides services ranging from pipe work to hole drilling.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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