Jon Klinghoffer is quoted in "Offshore Drilling Corporation Wins Sexual Harassment Case," published Aug. 15, 2023, in SHRM.org's HR Daily Newsletter.
The article concerns the jury's verdict in favor of SLB, a multinational oilfield services firm based in Houston, in a lawsuit claiming gender discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation. The jury found SLB, formerly called Schlumberger Technology Corp., not liable after the company showed it maintained anti-discrimination and nonretaliation policies and trained workers on those policies.
About the Case
A class-action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in June 2020, claiming that female employees who worked on oil rigs were groped, sexually harassed, leered at and called misogynistic slurs by their co-workers. About 95 percent of the company's employees are male, according to court documents.
One named plaintiff, who worked as a field engineer, alleged that male colleagues with whom she shared living quarters on oil rigs encouraged other men to break into her bedroom while she was sleeping and ignore her if she resisted their sexual advances. Another named plaintiff, also a field engineer, alleged that her male colleagues played pornography at the worksite, threatened to spank her, and used inappropriate and crude sexual language when teaching her how to use a certain tool. She also claimed her male co-workers requested that she be replaced by a man, refused to train her and told her she would not be successful as a field employee.
Both named plaintiffs said their complaints to Human Resources were discounted or ignored entirely. The first plaintiff said SLB retaliated against her by performing a drug and alcohol test on her hours after she complained of discrimination and harassment. In addition, she said a manager disclosed confidential information regarding her HR investigation and her suspension status to one of her colleagues. The company later fired her.
The second plaintiff alleged SLB retaliated against her and wrongfully terminated her after it refused to staff her on any oil rig unless she accepted a significant demotion and took a position in Alaska.
SLB said it made good-faith efforts to prevent harassment and discrimination and maintained a process for employees to voice concerns about those issues. "Plaintiffs unreasonably failed to timely utilize this complaint procedure to complain about alleged harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, and [SLB] neither knew nor had any reason to know of the alleged harassment, discrimination, or retaliation until plaintiffs' untimely complaint," SLB argued in court documents.
SLB sought to dismiss the class action, arguing that the claims didn't have enough commonality in the alleged conduct, severity, pervasiveness, impact, reporting, knowledge on the part of managers, and company response. It argued that the plaintiffs did not submit the collective allegations to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a timely fashion and did not satisfy the requirement to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit. SLB also argued that the second plaintiff did not receive an EEOC right to sue and could not piggyback on the first plaintiff's claims.
Before the trial, SLB settled with the first named plaintiff. As a result, the case was no longer a class action. The jury sided with the company for the remaining claims brought by the second named plaintiff.
Jon Klinghoffer's Advice
The article continues to report that under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, it's illegal to harass a job applicant or employee because of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or pregnancy status. Many states also have laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. Harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
In this section, Jon Klinghoffer is quoted as saying that employers should remind employees that retaliation "is prohibited and can lead to termination, regardless of the outcome of the underlying claim.
He continued saying that even if the alleged conduct may not be illegal under federal or state law, "nonetheless it may violate an organization's anti-harassment policy. When investigating a complaint of harassment, an HR investigation should focus on whether the alleged conduct violates the organization's policy," Jon said.