Posted June 24th, 2020.
By Annalisa Kraft
Schlumberger Technology Corporation, the world’s largest oilfield service provider, is facing a multi-million dollar #metoo moment with the June 23 filing of a $100 million sexual harassment class action lawsuit against the company in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
The plaintiff, Sara Saidman, started working as a Schlumberger field engineer at age 21 in 2017 and claimed male employees continually made sexually offensive comments. In addition, the hostile workplace environment extended to her bedroom at the “man camp” where she lived and worked as she charges that employees broke in.
The suit charges Schlumberger routinely discounted serious reports as jokes or just “oil field talk.” The suit is being brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Readers be warned as the law firm representing Saidman, Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, recounted some disturbing incidents and profane language. The firm’s release stated Saidman reached her breaking point when “one of her male colleagues (with whom she was forced to share living quarters) encouraged other men to break into her bedroom while she was sleeping and ignore her if she resisted their sexual advances, assuring them that Ms. Saidman ‘likes it whether or not she wants it’ and ‘the more she screams, the more she wants it.'”
According to the law firm’s release, “Men dominate oil rigs. Women make up only 5% of the Schlumberger employees staffed on the hundreds of oil rigs to which the Company provides services.”
The complaint states female employees are “sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, groped, leered at, and treated as sexual objects by their male colleagues. They are referred to as … ‘bitches’,” and ‘sluts’ who are undeserving of equal pay by their male colleagues.”
Further aggravating the heinous nature of the claims is that the women have little recourse to get away from the abusers. “Schlumberger requires women to share living quarters and even a bedroom with multiple men who work with them on the oil rig—often the same men who sexually harass, denigrate, and discriminate against them on a daily basis—making it impossible for women to escape the harassment inflicted by their male colleagues.”
And women get little support from human resources, said the firm. When Saidman reported multiple incidents to Schlumberger’s human resources department, the complaint says they told her, “So you don’t know what a joke is?”
In fact, the firm points out, “The Company’s own written harassment policy requires women who have been harassed to first ‘politely’ confront the harasser themselves before seeking assistance from management.”
The lawsuit chronicles how Schlumberger either ignores sexual harassment complaints entirely, dismisses them as ‘just oil field talk’ or ‘a joke,’ or retaliates against the victim.”
In fact, Saidman and other women who complained about the abuse were fired. The complaint states that Saidman was repeatedly advised not to report any of the incidents and instead was told to “get over herself,” “learn to deal with it,” and “not make a fuss” or face retaliation from the company.
When Saidman complained, the company retaliated against her, said Carolin Guentert, an attorney at Sanford Heisler Sharp. “When Ms. Saidman reported egregious examples of sexual harassment and gender discrimination to Schlumberger, she was targeted by the Company. This lawsuit is the only means Ms. Saidman has to remedy the Company’s past wrongs and ensure that women who work on oil rigs are safe from harassment and discrimination,” she said.
“For years, women working on oil rigs have been bullied, harassed, and abused by male workers,” added Michael Palmer, a partner with Sanford Heisler Sharp. “By filing a class action lawsuit, Ms. Saidman has put Schlumberger on notice that gender discrimination will no longer be buried from public view.”
The complaint, Sara Saidman v Schlumberger Technology Corporation case no. 4:20-cv-02913, states, “[Schlumberger] knowingly permitted male workers to treat women who work on oil rigs as sex objects and second-class citizens, intentionally turning a blind eye to the pattern of sexual harassment, sex (gender) discrimination, and physical danger that women are subjected to nationwide.”
The complaint also alleges that Schlumberger has been aware of the problem for 13 years and the toxic culture is rampant with the complaint recounting that one woman who applied for a field position was told “—during her job interview—that she would need to be on birth control if she wanted the job.”
Some of the incidents chronicled in the complaint are creepily reminiscent of Harvey Weinstein, whose behavior catalyzed the #metoo movement. “One woman filed a lawsuit against Schlumberger after she learned she had been secretly filmed by a hidden camera that was placed in her bedroom on a rig. Another woman complained about a male employee who broke into her room, took a shower, and then made sexual advances towards her while wearing only a towel.”
Schlumberger spokesperson Scott LaBelle responded to a PointLogic request, saying, “Schlumberger does not typically comment on ongoing litigation.”
An “open secret” in the industry
The outcome of the suit has significance for both downstream and midstream companies as pipeline companies such as TC Energy run “man camps” for remote projects such as its Coastal GasLink project and the Bakken is famed for the “Wild West” atmosphere of its man camps for drilling workers.
And the situation is also noted not just in the field. Last year in April, Anadarko Petroleum, before it merged with Occidental, was called out for prevalent sexual harassment at the company’s Denver office from 2015-2017. Anadarko said at the time it had addressed the complaints on what was called an “open secret” in the industry but some of the details were too graphic to be reported on air by Bloomberg TV.
Palmer, the lead counsel for Saidman, told Point Logic via email, the problem is widespread at Schlumberger and the class could contain hundreds of women. “We believe that since 2017, hundreds of women have experienced the harassment and discrimination described in the complaint. The class is equally as large.”
He added the issues are not just prevalent at Schlumberger, but throughout the oil and gas sector. “We believe that Schlumberger’s mistreatment of women is emblematic of a systemic, industry-wide problem in the oil and gas industry. Schlumberger is only the tip of the iceberg. Women who have been forced to endure this unlawful conduct should know that they are not alone.”