Man claims discrimination led to firing; company contends he abandoned job

April 22, 2011 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 21, 2011 at 11:22 p.m.

A Victoria man is suing his former employer over claims that he was wrongfully fired because of his race.

Rodney A. Simmons filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Texas Energy Service in federal court.

Texas Energy Service is a division of Forbes Energy Service, both of which are based in Alice.

Simmons, who is black, said he was fired in February 2010, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Messages left for John E. Crisp, chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Forbes Energy Services Ltd., were not returned as of Friday evening. In an earlier response to the complaint, however, the company contended Simmons abandoned his job and denied any discrimination.

Simmons said he first began working as an 18-wheeler driver for Texas Energy Service's Goliad truck yard in 2005.

As a driver for the full fluid service company, the plaintiff's responsibilities included hauling fluids such as gasoline, salt water and calcium chloride to and from various oil drilling and gas wells throughout Texas, said Simmons, as he verbally relayed details of his employment with the company.

Throughout his first three years with the company, Simmons claimed he was often asked to violate the hours-of-service rules mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which says drivers of commercial vehicles such as 18-wheelers may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.

Additionally, he claimed management often used racial slurs when communicating to him and about him.

"They treated me different," said Simmons, 35. "It was the way they kept calling me 'boy.'"

Simmons said he left the company on his own accord in 2008 because of mistreatment.

However, he returned in October 2010, after the company changed management, he said.

Upon his return, Simmons said, he continued to be subjected to racial slurs and a disproportionate number of labor intensive and late-day jobs.

In February 2010, Simmons claimed, a dispatcher informed him at the end of his shift that he needed to complete an additional assignment of hauling fresh water to a drilling rig near Kenedy. Management originally asked three different non-black employees to do the job, but when they refused, management approached Simmons with the assignment, the claim alleges.

Already one hour over his 14-hour limit, the plaintiff said he refused to do the job, which led to his termination later that day.

"If I had of gone further, then I was subject to putting my own life and someone else's life at risk," he said.

With the help of his former attorney, Christopher McJunkin, Simmons filed complaints with both the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission's Civil Rights division in April 2010.

The defendant refuted Simmons allegations during the EEOC investigation.

"Charging party never reported or complained to anyone with respondent concerning any problems related to any form of discrimination," Texas Energy Service's attorney Michael Holland wrote in a response to the EEOC. "Charging party cannot establish he was treated less favorably because of his race, nor can charging party establish there are other similarly situated non-black employees who were treated better than charging party by respondent under nearly identical circumstances as those engaged in by charging party."

According to the response, Simmons, who had agreed to make the run, had started the process of loading water into his truck when he received a call on his cell phone from his girlfriend.

After the phone call, Simmons abandoned his job so he could rush home and prove to his girlfriend that he was not cheating on her, said the response.

The plaintiff's failure to complete his assignment violated the company's policy prohibiting disobedience of orders and leaving the workplace too early, therefore justifying Simmons termination, wrote Holland.

In January of this year, the EEOC terminated its investigation of Simmons' claims, and in February, The Texas Workforce Commission did the same.

Neither agency provided findings of its investigation.

It is not clear why McJunkin chose to end his representation of Simmons, but the plaintiff, who is now representing himself pro se, filed his complaints with federal court along with an application to proceed without prepayment of fees on April 6.

Victoria Federal Judge John Rainey granted Simmons' request on April 8, officiating the complaint as a lawsuit.

Holland, who said he was not aware of the lawsuit, declined to comment further.



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