One of the men, a 21-year veteran of the Marines, contended in an
arbitration filing that he was paid less than his colleagues,
endured racist epithets, was passed over for promotion in favor of
less-qualified people who were white and ultimately lost his job at
Kellogg Brown & Root, the engineering and construction
subsidiary of Halliburton, which is a major global supplier of oil
It is difficult to draw conclusions about a company's employment
practices based on the accusations of a handful of employees,
specialists in employment law say, and nearly every large company
has faced its share of discrimination claims. But such accusations
made by veterans are potentially very sensitive for Kellogg Brown
& Root, which has strong ties to the military.
"There is this ex-military angle, it's true," said Michael
Harper, who teaches employment law at Boston University, but he
added that it would be unwise to draw too many conclusions about the
company based on the claims.
"It's not that I believe that these people don't feel that they
were discriminated against," but there is no objective method to
weigh the claims, Mr. Harper said. "It's just impossible to make an
Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, declined to comment on
the claims, citing company policy against the discussion of pending
In an e-mail message sent in response to a request for
information on the number of white and minority employees at the
company, Ms. Hall wrote: "Halliburton embraces diversity and
believes it is vital for our continued success. It helps provide a
work environment where everyone is valued and differences are viewed
as assets, not liabilities."
A former Army staff sergeant said he lost his job when the
company fired 84 percent of the blacks in his unit, according to the
filing. Two other claimants, a former Army major and a former
sergeant, said that, in separate incidents, they were told their
jobs were no longer necessary - only to find later that white
employees were promptly given their old positions.
A fifth man, a former Air Force sergeant, said that he was
repeatedly denied employment at Kellogg Brown & Root when he
applied in person for jobs at the company but received an offer when
he sent his resume via fax; the offer was rescinded before he could
"I was devastated," said Wayne Whiting, the former Army staff
sergeant. He and the other four men have begun arbitration
proceedings against Halliburton and Kellogg Brown & Root. "I was
a former military guy, now a retired military guy, and I was well
known in logistics, and I was just surprised that a company of this
magnitude could go on to treat their employees with no kind of
The terms of the employment contracts signed by the four former
Kellogg Brown & Root employees prohibit them from suing in
federal court. This is not unusual, employment lawyers say.
A date has not yet been set for the arbitration, which will be in
New York, said Joshua Friedman, the lawyer for the veterans.
The stories of the four veterans who worked at the company have
common elements. Each man says that he was singled out for unfair
treatment by superiors. Two say that they complained to the human
resources department at the company, and three filed complaints with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
All four lost their jobs and contend that clearly less-qualified
white employees took their old positions - even after the company
told them, in some cases, that the positions were to be
Mr. Whiting, for example, started in November 1998 at Kellogg
Brown & Root in Taszar, Hungary, helping to run a supply system
for the Army, according to the arbitration filing. He was told in an
e-mail message in October 2000 that his position was being
eliminated, the filing said. Then he learned that one of his
subordinates, who is white, was taking over his old job.
According to the arbitration claim, the e-mail message with the
news of Mr. Whiting's job loss came after one of his supervisors
told him, "You're not the right man and color for this job."
Kellogg Brown & Root hired Mr. Jackson, a former Marine, as a
property specialist, a job that entails storing and keeping track of
military property, in May 1998, the filing said. Mr. Jackson claimed
that he was paid less than others in similar jobs and was not
informed of other job openings he could apply for.
A new supervisor told Mr. Jackson in July 2001 that his position
was being eliminated, but that he could transfer to another job that
paid about $350 less a month, the filing said. Mr. Jackson took the
job, but he sent an e-mail message to Halliburton's chief executive
to find out what had happened, and later approached Kara Hall, a
black human resources executive at the company.
According to the filing, Mr. Hall later told Mr. Jackson in an
e-mail message: "You are not the only one over here who has or is
being screwed. Go for what you feel is right for you."
Mr. Hall, reached overseas by telephone, declined to comment on
Mr. Jackson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission in the spring of 2002. His lost his job in
"All of my clients in this case were victims of discrimination,"
Mr. Friedman, the lawyer, said. "It shocks the conscience."
Lawyers who have represented other blacks who have filed claims
against Halliburton or its subsidiaries said that because of the way
the hiring is done for projects by the company and its competitors,
discrimination would be difficult to prove.
On construction projects, for example, managers hire workers for
specific projects and often choose people they already know and
like, lawyers said. Those people are often of the same race as the
managers, they said.
Charles T. Jeremiah, a Houston lawyer who is representing two
black Halliburton employees in unrelated arbitration cases against
the company, said that his clients were singled out for undesirable
jobs at sites and endured racist jokes and slurs. Those arbitration
cases are set to begin in January.
Whether arbitration favors one side or the other is a subject of
some dispute. Some lawyers for plaintiffs say that because
arbitrators want repeat business, they are reluctant to alienate big
companies; defense lawyers counter that both sides must agree on an
But discrimination claims can be difficult to prove, said Mr.
Harper, the law professor.
The law, he said, "doesn't require employees to be treated
fairly, it doesn't proscribe old-boy networks, it doesn't proscribe
treating people better because they're friends.''
"It only proscribes discrimination on the basis of race or sex,"
Mr. Harper said, and the case will turn on the evidence of the
claimants. "They've got to prove discriminatory motivation, which
means not animus but taking race into account."