BP Denies Racism Claims

Lawsuit cites distributor bidding process and CEO speech, aims to build class action

WARRENVILLE, Ill. -- While admitting it has no African-American jobbers among its ranks, BP is vigorously denying any racial discrimination at the company in general and in the awarding of distribution deals in the Baltimore/Washington area specifically, as claimed in a lawsuit filed on behalf of DAG Petroleum Cos., a company owned and operated by African-Americans.

BP emphatically denies any alleged claim of racial discrimination regarding this [distribution bidding] process, BP spokesperson Scott Dean told CSP Daily News. The one kernel of truth in [image-nocss] their filing is that we don't have an African-American jobber.

That's not an indication of racism, however, said Dean. It's just a matter of going through the bidding process. About 20% of our dealers and franchisees come from various minority backgrounds. [And if an African-American] makes a competitive bid [as a jobber] that would benefit BP and its shareholders, we'd be happy to sign a contract with them, he said, adding that is also the case with the specific Baltimore/Washington bidding process on which DAG lost out on the opportunity to distribute petroleum products to BP's 181 stations in the area.

The expanded bid process was consistent and fair to all participants, he said. We are confident that the bids submitted by all companies received full and fair consideration. BP completed final agreements with the two companies whose bids offered the highest overall value to BP and its shareholders.

That is not the case, according to DAG's lawsuit, which claims the Washington, D.C.-based company lost the bid because DAG is owned and operated by African-Americans. The lawsuit alleges that BP entered into a bogus bidding process through which it funneled the distributor rights to two white-owned companies.

Again, Dean said that is not true. BP's lessee dealers in these market areas had been offered the opportunity to purchase their individual business locations where they operate, and the sale of these dealer-operators are now progressing on more than 100 BP-branded retail sites in the Baltimore/Washington [area], he said. Several of these buyers are African-American and members of other minority groups.

But Billy Martin, DAG's chief counsel and a high-profile African-American trial lawyer, said the lawsuit goes beyond the Baltimore/Washington deal. The world's third largest publicly traded oil company has one of the worst records when it comes to diversity in its employment and supplier and distribution chain, he said. Out of the thousands of stations they operate there is not one African-American distributor, not one. The record speaks for itself.

The lawsuit seeks $700,000 in monetary damages for DAG and a mandate that BP be required to implement and follow meaningful diversity policies, treat African-Americans equally with whites and train their employees in fair contracting practices, states a press release. The lawsuit cites numerous quotes from a five-year-old speech by BP Group CEO Lord John Browne that Martin said equate to Brown admitting that BP has a history of engaging in racially discriminatory practices.

Dean, again, said that is not the case and noted that BP has a long history of enacting diversity programs at its offices around the world.

Meanwhile, DAG also has set up a toll-free phone line to gather similar complaints from other African-Americans to mount a class-action lawsuit against BP.