Seeking to force a quick settlement, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called Tuesday for a national boycott of Texaco Inc. beginning Saturday unless the oil giant reaches agreement before then with black employees who have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit .
Jackson said economic sanctions are needed to “break the cycle” of racial hostility at Texaco and he called on Texaco stockholders to sell their shares in protest. Unless the case is settled before Saturday, he said, Texaco service stations will be picketed.
Jackson’s remarks came after he and other civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, met Tuesday afternoon with Texaco Chairman Peter I. Bijur at the company’s White Plains, N.Y., headquarters.
Bijur told reporters after the meeting that Texaco will settle the lawsuit “as quickly as possible.” He said a boycott would be “divisive” and would cause “economic disruption.”
The suit was brought in 1994 by six Texaco employees on behalf of themselves and nearly 1,400 other black professionals and middle managers who believe their careers were harmed by pervasive discrimination.
Daniel Berger, a lawyer for the employees, estimated that the group has suffered $71 million in lost wages and benefits as a result of having their careers stalled.
The lawsuit erupted on the national scene after the release last week of transcripts of secret tape recordings of an August 1994 meeting in which company executives purportedly plotted to destroy evidence in the lawsuit and used a racial epithet to disparage African American employees.
An independent investigator hired by Texaco reported Monday that a digitally enhanced version of the recordings proves that the company’s then-treasurer, Robert W. Ulrich, never used the word “nigger,” as alleged in court transcripts filed by plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
A federal grand jury in White Plains that is investigating possible destruction of evidence has subpoenaed and received documents from Texaco and from Richard A. Lundwall, the former Texaco personnel executive who made the secret tape recordings, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Jonathan L. Rosner, a New York lawyer representing Ulrich, said Tuesday that Ulrich has not received a “target letter” from federal prosecutors. Such a letter is normally sent to potential defendants in white collar crime cases to notify them of the grand jury’s activity and invite them to voluntarily provide information, said Rosner, a former federal prosecutor.
Rosner also said he believes his client has been unfairly maligned by press coverage of the scandal, particularly by the allegation that Ulrich used a racial slur.
Lundwall’s attorney did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, Bijur met with Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, at the organization’s headquarters in Baltimore.
Mfume, in a statement, also called for an immediate settlement of the lawsuit. Although he stopped short of endorsing an immediate boycott of Texaco, he said it remains an option, adding: “Short of economic reprisal, there is very little that will make it clear to corporate America and others that continued incidents that are both racist and anti-Semitic will not be tolerated.”
Texaco officials promised to return to the NAACP within 30 days with a “plan of action,” Mfume said.
Texaco shares began falling Tuesday on word of Jackson’s boycott call, dipping as low as $94.325 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange before recovering to close at $95.325, down $1.875 on the day.