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Judge OKs Settlement in Texaco Race Lawsuit

Workplace: Average worker award more than $63,000. Court to rule later on attorneys' fees, which have drawn protest.

March 27, 1997|From Bloomberg News

A federal judge approved Texaco Inc.'s $176-million settlement of a racial-discrimination lawsuit, though he held off ruling on proposed fees for the victors' attorneys and "incentive awards" for the six workers who filed the suit.

The settlement is "fair and reasonable and highly beneficial" to the 1,348 current and former black Texaco employees covered in the class-action case, U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant in White Plains, N.Y., said in a ruling dated Friday and released Wednesday. The average award to each worker will be more than $63,000.

The attorneys who represented the workers are seeking $29 million for legal fees and expenses, or 25% of the $115 million that White Plains-based Texaco will pay directly to workers covered by the settlement.

The attorneys also requested that an additional $800,000 in special compensation be taken from the $115 million for the six current and former Texaco workers who filed the suit.

Brieant said he will rule separately on those matters because several class members had written to the court objecting to the "amount and manner of disbursement of fees."

The court "recognizes its obligation to compensate the lawyers who produced the result fairly, and at the same time to protect the interests of the absent class members from any excess charges," the judge said.

Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer for the workers, said he was confident the judge would approve the fee request.

Hausfeld also said the attorneys' request for 25% of the cash settlement isn't excessive compared with fees awarded attorneys in other major lawsuits.

The special compensation would award the six who filed the suit for their contributions to the case, he said.

"These people stuck their necks out and put in a substantial amount of time," he said.

In addition to the $115 million award to workers, the settlement includes $26 million in pay raises for current black workers and $35 million for diversity programs at Texaco.

The lawsuit against Texaco, filed in 1994, charged the oil company with denying black workers raises and promotions because of their race.

Texaco agreed to settle the case Nov. 15 after a former personnel coordinator, Richard Lundwall, disclosed secret tape recordings of himself and other executives apparently making critical remarks about black workers and discussing the destruction of documents sought by plaintiffs in the discrimination case.

Earlier this month, Lundwall pleaded innocent to charges of obstruction of justice that were brought based in part on evidence taken from the tapes.

Texaco shares rose $1.375 to close at $109.75 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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