Married, Pregnant and Sexually Harassed: Jury Awards More Than $1 Million
In the Texas oil fields, age and sexual discrimination are common, according to the attorney who argued and won this sexual harassment case.
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.
“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.
“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. &