INVESTIGATOR FINDS NO SLUR ON TEXACO TAPE.
The ``N-word'' used by a Texaco Inc. executive was ``Nicholas'' and not a racial slur, an investigator hired by the company to electronically enhance a tape of the conversation said Monday.
Company Chairman Peter Bijur said the finding doesn't change the ``unacceptable context and tone'' of the recorded conversation.
Plaintiffs in a $520 million discrimination lawsuit against Texaco claim former Texaco treasurer Robert Ulrich said ``(expletive) n------'' during a 1994 discussion of the suit among company executives.
Attorney Michael Armstrong, hired by Texaco to check out the tape, said Ulrich actually said ``poor St. Nicholas,'' a reference to Christmas, while disparaging the African-American cultural festival Kwanzaa.
``The phrase `(expletive) n------' just doesn't exist on the tape,'' said Armstrong, who enhanced a digitized version of the cassette recording, removing laughter that obscured some of Ulrich's words.
The comments have brought withering criticism against Texaco, and African-American leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson have threatened a boycott unless the company remedies the discrimination alleged by the 1,400 minority employees.
A federal grand jury is investigating whether executives illegally destroyed documents on minority hiring - a plan discussed during the tape-recorded conversation, according to the lawsuit.
Texaco is in formal talks to settle the lawsuit, perhaps as early as this week, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing anonymous sources. The Journal also said federal prosecutors plan to file criminal charges against at least one individual in the Texaco case this week.
Bijur has suspended the two executives who were at the meeting and are still employed at Texaco, Peter Meade and J. David Keough. The company also suspended Ulrich's retirement benefits. His lawyer, Jonathan Rosner, said the new transcript showed his client has been done a ``disservice.''
Armstrong's report did not address the other task Texaco gave him - to find out if Texaco officials had tried to obstruct the plaintiffs from obtaining company documents on the hiring and promotion of African-Americans.
The lawsuit's version of the transcript also accuses Ulrich of calling African-American employees ``black jelly beans.''
Armstrong's report said that remark apparently was not intended as a racial slur, but stemmed from an analogy used in a speech attended by Texaco executives. The colors of the beans were used to refer to different races.
Bijur said his investigator's findings ``merely set the record straight as to the exact words spoken in the conversations, but they do not change the categorically unacceptable context and tone of these conversations.''
Jackson, who is scheduled to meet with Texaco officials Tuesday, said, ``To go from regrets to denial would be adding to the insult.''
``The problem is not just the language, the insult,'' Jackson said. ``The problem is a pattern of discrimination in employment, promotion, dealerships, all down the line.''
Differing transcripts of a tape-recorded conversation among Texaco executives, including Richard Lundwall and Robert Ulrich.The first version is from an affidavit filed by the plaintiffs in a race discrimination case. The second is from a Texaco-hired investigator.
Lundwall: Now we have two . . . national anthems.
Ulrich: I'm still having trouble with Hanukkah. Now, we have Kwanzaa. . . . (Expletive) n------, they (expletive) all over us with this.
Lundwall: We have two . . . national anthems.
Ulrich: All right. . . . I'm still struggling with Hanukkah, and now we have Kwanzaa, I mean I lost Christmas, poor St. Nicholas, they (expletive) all over his beard.
Box: TRANSCRIPTS (See text)