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Schlumberger Oil Rigs Rife With Sexual Harassment, Suit Says (2)

June 23, 2020, 3:53 PMUpdated: June 23, 2020, 7:06 PM

Women who work on male-dominated rigs for Schlumberger Technology Corp. face systematic harassment and abuse from their male colleagues and when they complain are told it’s just “oil field talk,” a lawsuit filed in Houston federal court alleges.

The lawsuit seeks class action status to show a pattern at rigs operated by the Houston-based oil and gas giant in which women are sexually harassed, groped, and labeled with offensive terms, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The women share living quarters with the men on the oil rigs, which employ 95% male workers, according to the complaint.

In the suit filed Tuesday, Sara Saidman, who worked for Schlumberger as a field engineer at the age of 21, alleges that men routinely made offensive comments about her looks and even broke into her bedroom, and that when she reported it to human resources, she was told, “So you don’t know what a joke is?”

The lawsuit claims that Schlumberger typically ignores sexual harassment complaints or dismisses them as “oil field talk” or a “joke.” Saidman says the company fired her and other women in retaliation for their complaints.

This type of treatment is common for women on the rigs and the company’s harassment policy requires women to “politely” confront their harasser, the suit says. The company “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 suit alleges.

As many as 500 women who worked on rigs across the country from 2017 could be part of the class, said Michael Palmer, a partner with Sanford Heisler Sharp who’s representing the workers.

The nature of the harassment is unusual, as oil rig workers live on-site in remote locations and women can’t escape the harassment, the suit says.

“Here we have women essentially isolated from any kind of support system. The small percentage of women who work in the field is quite stark,” Palmer said. “Even compared to so much of what happens in other businesses, this is so much worse because individuals really have nowhere to go.”

As the world’s biggest oilfield services provider, Schlumberger has been suffering along with other hired hands of the oil patch amid the worst crude crash ever. The company hired to map pockets of underground oil, drill wells, and breathe new life into old fields has seen customers slash billions in spending this year as the global pandemic squashes demand for crude.

Schlumberger warned last week investors could see as much as $1.4 billion in cash costs while it reshuffles its business to serve a changing oil industry.

Causes of Action: Hostile work environment, retaliation, and wrongful termination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Relief: Damages including back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages in an amount not less than $100 million. Litigation costs and expenses, including attorneys fees.

Response: Schlumberger spokesman Scott LaBelle said Monday the company hasn’t been served with the lawsuit yet.

Attorneys: Sanford Heisler Sharp and Shellist Lazarz Slobin represent the plaintiffs.

The case is Saidman v. Schlumberger, S.D. Tex., No. 4:20-cv-02193, complaint filed 6/23/20.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com; David Wethe in Houston at dwethe@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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