Employee Litigation

Married, Pregnant and Sexually Harassed: Jury Awards More Than $1 Million

A Texas oilfield inspection company comes under scrutiny when its personnel director propositions and the company then fires a pregnant sales associate.
By: | June 22, 2018 • 3 min read

In the Texas oil fields, age and sexual discrimination are common, according to the attorney who argued and won this sexual harassment case.

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A Federal Court jury returned a verdict of more than $1 million against a Texas oilfield inspection company after it fired a female associate who informed the company she was married and pregnant.

Plaintiff Sara Roberts alleged one of the first questions Keith Demby, the personnel director for Brinkerhoff Inspection, Inc., asked her when he was recruiting her was if she was expecting. After initially saying “no” due to her shock at the question, she eventually told him she was pregnant.

On her first day on the job Roberts alleges that Demby propositioned her.

A few days later, Demby then allegedly overheard Roberts tell an associate she was married. Roberts was fired just three and a half days into her employment despite having been told in the interviewing process that she was a “perfect fit” for the company, according to U.S. District Court documents.

“I think the worst thing this company did was allow their personnel manager to make hiring decisions based on his desire to have sex with his employees,” said Holly Williams, Roberts’ Odessa, Texas-based lead attorney.

“The bottom line is that my client got hired on Monday and fired on Thursday after she told him she had just gotten married. Our theory of the case was that he figured out she wasn’t interested in him, so he got rid of her,” Williams said.

Texas Attorney Holly Williams

“Obviously ‘you can’t run your business like a casting couch’ is the primary lesson, but they also did not follow proper hiring procedures. There was no employee handbook and obviously they had not trained that manager on sexual harassment law.”

Williams, who has practiced law in West Texas for about 25 years and is from the area, said she believes age and sexual discrimination are significant issues in the Texas oil and gas industry.

The severe industry cycles in oil and gas have led to a lot of job displacement and subsequent age discrimination, she said.

“I think a lot of people out here have witnessed age discrimination,” she said.

In addition, the energy industry is so male-dominated that insensitivity to the rights of female employees remains a problem, she added.

“The bottom line is that my client got hired on Monday and fired on Thursday after she told him she had just gotten married. Our theory of the case was that he figured out she wasn’t interested in him so he got rid of her.” Holly Williams, Odessa, Texas-based attorney

Williams said even though the Odessa District Court jury returned a verdict of more than $1 million in personal and punitive damages, it’s hard to say whether there is a trend of higher verdicts in sex discrimination cases in her geography because so few cases go to trial.

Criminal cases take precedence over civil cases in Texas courts, she said, and there are a number of judicial vacancies in that region leading to adjudication delays.

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“We need to try more cases on the plaintiffs’ side and get more verdicts, because I do think that when people see something that is not right, juries are willing to do what they can to fix it,” she said.

The complaint alleged sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and pregnancy discrimination.

The jury verdict awarded Roberts $42,000 in pain and suffering, $125,000 in past wages and benefits and assessed $841,625 against Brinkerhoff in punitive damages. According to Williams, the company did not carry employment practices liability insurance.

A call to the Brinkerhoff offices seeking comment was not returned. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.

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But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.

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Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.