Posted June 23rd, 2020.
By Morgan Conley
Law360 (June 23, 2020, 4:22 PM EDT) — Oilfield services giant Schlumberger was hit Tuesday with a $100 million proposed class action by a former employee who says the company promotes a “good ole boys club” mentality on its male-dominated rigs that allows “rampant” sexual harassment of the few women working beside them.
Women who work on rigs say they face sexual assault and sexual harassment as “standard operating procedure,” former Schlumberger Technology Corp. employee Sara Saidman said in the Texas federal court complaint. Saidman, an engineer, said she directly experienced sexual harassment at the majority of the seven rigs she worked on during her roughly one year with the oil company and wants to represent more than 40 women she says were similarly affected by the hostile working environment alleged to be ignored by Schlumberger.
The suit seeks over $100 million in punitive damages, back and front pay, and compensatory damages.
“Schlumberger’s perpetual inaction and indifference to instances of women being sexually harassed and discriminated against on oil rigs makes it clear that the company condones the treatment of women as second-class citizens,” one of Saidman’s attorneys, Nicole Wiitala of Sanford Heisler Sharp, said in a statement Tuesday.
Scott LaBelle, a spokesperson for Schlumberger, told Law360 in an email Tuesday the company had yet to be served with the suit.
Saidman began working for Schlumberger as a specialized directional drilling engineer in 2016 and spent about a year with the company, working on various rigs from North Dakota to New Mexico, according to the suit.
Days into her time at her first station in New Mexico, she said, her supervisor insinuated her body was a safety hazard because it might distract the men and instructed her not to wear shorts. She was later groped on the same rig, the suit says.
Saidman alleges the sexual harassment she experienced ranged from disparaging comments about the competency of women to her male roommates encouraging co-workers to sexually assault her.
She said in the complaint that one of the male roommates she was assigned to share a trailer with at her second-to-last assignment in Texas, where she was the only woman on-site, “encouraged the other men working on the rig to break into her bedroom while she was sleeping and ignore her if she resisted sexual advances.” The roommate — one of three men she shared the trailer with — “assured other male workers that Ms. Saidman ‘likes it whether or not she wants it'” and “‘the more she screams, the more she wants it,'” according to the complaint
After about a month at the site, Saidman moved on to a new rig but continued to pursue an internal complaint against one of her former roommates for harassment and discrimination as well as for allegedly tampering with her work journals in an attempt to get her reprimanded. When she met with a human resources representative to discuss her claims, she was required to undergo a retaliatory drug and alcohol test on the spot, she said.
The test came back negative, but the next day she was placed on suspension for “driving policy violations” unrelated to the test and was fired shortly after, according to the complaint.
And the company enabled the behavior, Saidman alleges. She said the company’s formal policy for handling sexual harassers instructs victims to first “politely” ask the perpetrators to stop before bringing the problem to the company.
She also said that when she recounted her experiences of sexual harassment to a company representative, she was asked, “So you don’t know what a joke is?”
The suit lodges two class claims for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act through sex-based discrimination and allowing a hostile work environment to persist. Saidman also filed two claims only on behalf of herself for retaliation and wrongful termination under Title VII.
Saidman is represented by Michael D. Palmer, Nicole E. Wiitala, and Carolin E. Guentert of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, and Todd Slobin and Melinda Arbuckle of Shellist Lazarz Slobin LLP.
Counsel information for Schlumberger was not immediately known Tuesday.
The suit is Saidman v. Schlumberger Technology Corp., case number 4:20-cv-02193, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
–Editing by Gemma Horowitz.