Texaco's Test

Big international oil companies don't always give us a warm feeling, except when they feed the furnace. But we put our skepticism aside and welcomed the outrage of Peter I. Bijur, Texaco's chairman and chief executive officer, beamed by satellite to thousands of employees. He was responding to reports of executives, caught on tape, speaking derogatorily about black employees. "We will not tolerate disrespect or prejudice in this company. Anybody who behaves this way will not work for Texaco."

The test will be what long-term action the company takes to deter such behavior. Meanwhile, a federal grand jury is looking into allegations that the taped executives ordered destruction of documents sought in a discrimination lawsuit by 1,500 black workers.

The tape was reportedly made by an official to help him prepare accurate minutes of human-resources committee meetings. Sad twist on a line by TV comedian Milton Berle of the early Emmy-winning "Texaco Star Theater": "A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours."

Obviously the taped committee was losing time in correcting now-dramatized human-resources problems. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after long investigation, found that Texaco discriminated against African-American employees as a class. Texaco's performance is a "concern," according to Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini & Co., which rates companies on social responsibility. For comparison, an even bigger oil company, Amoco, gets a rating on diversity of "major strength."

Some Texaco shareholders, to their credit, have protested the recently publicized conduct. They set an example in any company that needs to capture more of the spirit as well as letter of equal opportunity.

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