Darrel Smith faced a dilemma. He wished to bring claims against his former employer, Equistar Chemicals, and Lyondell Chemicals Co., of which Equistar was an affiliate, because he claimed that he endured racist harassment at the company and was fired in 2006 for complaining about it. However, in 2009 Equistar and Lyondell filed for bankruptcy and thus were discharged from any liability to Smith. Smith dropped his claims against Equistar and Lyondell and instead focused his case on two former employees of the company.
He first settled claims against his direct supervisor, James Bianchetta. Smith, who is black, alleged that Bianchetta, who is white, made offensive racist statements in his presence.