A high-ranking financial officer at the multinational oil giant British Petroleum says she was fired from the corporation’s office in Orange County, Calif., for dressing in African-influenced style, wearing a dashiki and braided hair — fashion choices that her bosses told her made others in the office feel “intimidated” and “uncomfortable.”
The dashiki is a colorful, loose fitting top traditionally worn in West Africa. It became popular with African-Americans in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Melphine Evans was BP’s West Coast chief financial officer. In a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court, she says that her bosses at BP told her, “you intimidate and make your colleagues uncomfortable by wearing ethnic clothing and ethnic hairstyles.”
The lawsuit alleges that “a BP representative went so far as to ask Ms. Evans ‘if she understood that wearing a dashiki to work makes her colleagues feel uncomfortable?'”
The BP boss said that she should only wear the “ethnic” apparel on “culture day,” during “Black History Month,” or on special “ethnic diversity days.”
She was also told that she must inform her colleagues in advance if she planned to wear “ethnic clothing” on any particular day, the lawsuit alleges.
Evans was subjected to other racially tinged comments, such as, referring to her colleagues, “they hate you and they are going to get you,” she claims in the court filing.
Evans joined BP in 2001 and moved to the La Palma, Orange County office in 2008.
While BP has refused to comment in response to press inquiries regarding specifics of Evans’ lawsuit, the company issued a statement saying, “BP treats all employees fairly. BP disagrees with the claims and will vigorously defend the suit.”
BP spokesperson Scott Dean also noted that when Evans took her discrimination claim to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, that agency was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes a violation of the statute.”
Evans alleges that her bosses fabricated allegations that she bullied her colleagues and was “overly aggressive” toward them. The lawsuit notes that in an official performance review, the company described her as “a people person” who “engages her entire organization and is sincere in her desire to ensure all are valued and heard.”
In the suit, Evans claims that BP made up the “bullying” and “overly aggressive” charges against her to cover up the real reason for her firing, which was, she charges, her bosses’ “hostile and discriminatory treatment that was inconsistent with her similarly situated white counterparts at BP.”