Past Cases

Texaco Race Discrimination Litigation

Status Past Case

Practice area Civil Rights & Employment

Court U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York

Case number 94-Civ. 2015


Cohen Milstein was co-lead counsel in what is one of the largest race-based pay and promotion discrimination class actions and settlements in U.S. history. Given the revelation of secret tape recordings of Texaco executives, it is also infamous for the national corporate scandal that followed.

In 1997, the certified class of approximately 1,500 African American executives and employees achieved a historic settlement of $172 million to resolve their claims of systemic racial discrimination by Texaco, Inc., one of the largest oil and natural gas companies in the country. Furthermore, all then-current Texaco employees who were class members received a one-time salary increase of 10%, thus providing an additional value of approximately $26.1 million to the class.

The settlement also included significant programmatic relief.  The settlement provided for the creation of an independent Equity and Tolerance Task Force. The task force was charged with evaluating and advising on Texaco’s human resource policies to correct and ensure an equitable workplace. Among the changes implemented, the creation of a company-wide diversity training program and a mentoring program. As a result of these company-wide programs, Texaco’s promotions and employee development procedures were significantly improved.

Case Background

Originally filed in 1994 by former finance executive Bari-Ellen Roberts, who has since published a book about her experience at Texaco and the litigation, and five other African-American executives, the plaintiffs alleged that Texaco failed to promote African-American employees to upper management levels, including senior executive positions, and failed to compensate them fairly in relation to their Caucasian counterparts. 

Specifically, each of the employees claimed that they hit the Texaco “glass ceiling” when they tried to obtain advanced managerial, supervisory, or executive positions. They also alleged that their experiences were part of a larger, systemic employment practice at Texaco and that approximately 1,500 African American employees experienced similar situations.

Through the course of the investigation, plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ counsel believed that Texaco was withholding documents that would be detrimental to their defense. These suspicions were vindicated when secret tape recordings emerged of Texaco executives discussing withholding sensitive human resource documents and expressing the racially insensitive attitudes that were prevalent in their board room. These tapes, aka the “Texaco Tapes,” were released to the general public in November 1996, leading to a national corporate scandal. Shortly after Texaco’s chairman publicly denounced the attitudes expressed in the tape recordings, the parties agreed to negotiate a settlement.

Roberts v. Texaco, Inc., Case No. 94-Civ. 2015 (S.D.N.Y.)