Federal Agency and Plaintiff's Counsel Score $245,619 Victory For Oil Rig Worker
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A federal judge ordered that $245,619be paid to an Alaskan oil rig worker today in a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason capped an eight-day trial where a federal jury returned a verdict in favor of the EEOC and Kevin McDowell, a former employee of Houston-based Parker Drilling Company.
The jury found Parker Drilling liable for disability discrimination under both federal and state law when the company withdrew its initial job offer to hire McDowell, an experienced oil rig worker, because he had no vision in his left eye. After the jury found liability and awarded McDowell $15,000 in compensatory damages for emotional pain and distress, the judge ordered $230,619 in back pay.
"This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President H.W. Bush," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This jury verdict is well-timed to celebrate the ADA's mandate to ensure equal opportunity and combat discrimination against real or perceived disability."
During trial, McDowell testified to the centrality of his rig work to his life and identity, saying, "I am the oil fields." McDowell, who lost sight in his left eye as a child, never found his monocular vision a hindrance during his successful 37-year career working various positions on the oil rig floor. In fact, he began his career at Parker Drilling from 1978-1982. After offering him a junior rig manager job on the North Slope in late January 2010, Parker Drilling introduced McDowell as the "newest addition" to its management team. And yet on Feb. 1, he was notified that his monocular vision disqualified him for the position. When he asked to speak to the company's doctor for re-evaluation, the doctor gave him short shrift and simply stated that McDowell could find work with some other drilling company but was not going to work for Parker Drilling.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects workers from discrimination due to an actual or perceived disability. The EEOC filed the suit (3:13-CV-00181-SLG) in U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, and McDowell intervened, represented by private counsel Terry Venneberg.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, "This is the first EEOC case ever to go to trial in Alaska. A unanimous eight-person jury believed in Kevin McDowell and rejected Parker Drilling's defense that he posed a 'direct threat' based on safety. The jury has sent a message that the ADA extends to the northernmost reaches of our country and that employees and applicants will be fairly assessed on their ability to do a job, and not wrongfully excluded due to myths, fears or stereotypes about disabilities."
EEOC Lead Senior Trial Attorney Carmen Flores added, "The jury recognized they were in a unique position to right the injustice that had been done to Kevin McDowell, a proud Alaskan with a proven work record who was not afraid to take on this worldwide drilling company."
According to its website, www.parkerdrilling.com, Parker Drilling provides worldwide drilling services, rental tools and project management, including rig design, construction and operations management for oil drilling operations.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.