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Texaco Executives Try to Save Face As Charges of Racist Plot Mount

By Thomas S. Mulligan
Los Angeles Times

Scandalized by a disclosure that executives apparently plotted to destroy evidence and reviled black workers, the chairman of Texaco sought Monday to confront what shaped up as a moral, legal, and public-relations nightmare for the venerable oil company, condemning the actions attributed to top officials and hiring outside lawyers to investigate.

The scandal, sparked by a secret tape recording of Texaco executives discussing a racial-discrimination lawsuit, reverberated outside Texaco as well. Critics who have assailed major corporations for racist and sexist behavior said the disclosures were a graphic confirmation of the worst suspicions often harbored about corporate management - notably Texaco's.

Peter I. Bijur, Texaco chairman and chief executive, in a rare act of corporate contrition, addressed the company's 19,000 U.S. employees in a satellite broadcast Monday, declaring: "This alleged behavior violates our code of conduct, our core values and the law." He decried the "rank insensitivity" of the taped remarks, first disclosed by The New York Times on Monday, and declared himself "both ashamed and outraged that such a thing happened to our family."

Texaco, the United States' third-largest oil company, said an outside company has launched "an extensive independent investigation to determine whether these allegations are true." The oil company said it would discipline and possibly fire employees found guilty of misconduct.

The explosive transcript of the August 1994 meeting - secretly taped by one of the Texaco executives present - was filed last week in federal court in Texaco's corporate home town of White Plains, N.Y., in connection with the lawsuit by black middle-managers who say their careers have been stalled by pervasive racial discrimination.

Robert W. Ulrich, Texaco's then-treasurer and the highest-ranking officer at the meeting, is heard on the tape exhorting subordinates to "purge the s-- out of these books," referring to records being sought by attorneys for plaintiffs in the case.

"I don't want to be caught up in a cover-up. I don't want to be my own Watergate," Ulrich said.