By Tony Parra
A U.S. district court has ruled in favor of a Portales auto dealership and its owner in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Portales resident Marla Segovia and three other women. Alva Carter, owner of Big Valley Auto, was named in the suit.
Other women involved in the lawsuit were Tammy Hulce, Michelle Reid and Joanne Richmond. Hulce and Reid were scorned and ridiculed for being pregnant while working at the Chrysler dealership, the EEOC alleged in court papers.
Segovia and Richmond were subjected to sexist and anti-female remarks while they worked at the company, the lawsuit alleged.
EEOC attorney Loretta Medina represented all four plaintiffs.
Carter agreed to settle the claims of pregnancy discrimination to pay $6,500 to Reid on April 26, 2004, according to district court documents. Carter’s attorney, Linda Hemphill of Santa Fe, said Richmond and Hulce dropped their lawsuits.
Hemphill said Reid’s claim was settled to avoid the litigation, not because of guilt.
“We did it because it would cost more to defend the case and that’s why we agreed to pay that amount,” Hemphill said.
The federal lawsuit between Segovia and Big Valley Auto for more than $350,000 in punitive damages was filed in late August of 2003 and the case went to trial on May 5, according to Hemphill. Senior U.S. District Judge John Edwards Conway oversaw the case and the trial ended on May 9.
The court did not release its findings until June 30.
“We’re delighted we can go up against the government and win,” Carter said. “People are scared of the feds and many of them cave in (by settling out of court).”
Hemphill said the lawsuit cost Carter more than $150,000 in court fees and he is researching his options of a counter suit to have the EEOC help pay for his legal costs.
“They (EEOC) were quick to jump on me,” Carter said. “They (plaintiffs) don’t get penalized if they lose, because the government pays for everything.”
Arguments involving Segovia, Carter and a car salesman, Rodney Ennis occurred from July 2000 to at least September 2001, according to the EEOC. Segovia was hired in November of 1996 by Chuck Daggett Motors and stayed on through a change of ownership.
Segovia worked as a new car manager and Ennis served as a used car manager.
The two had an ongoing conflict rising from their respective compensation agreements, according to court documents. Segovia had incentive to place high values on trade-in vehicles to boost new vehicle sales. Ennis had incentive for lower trade-in values to make used vehicles easier to sell.
During a discussion with Carter, the two had an argument related to the conflict in September 2001, according to court documents. In response to what Ennis felt was a snide comment from Segovia, he responded with obscenities directed at his co-worker and also gave her the finger, according to court findings.
Ennis declined comment on the events alleged in the court documents, but said he felt it was a “frivolous lawsuit against Carter,” and that he and other employees were “brought into it because it would help justify her case.”
Ennis no longer works at the dealership.
In October 2001, Segovia resigned from the dealership over a disagreement with a new pay plan, according to the court ruling. Her replacement as new car manager was subject to the new plan, which Segovia alleged would give more money to Ennis and less to her. Carter said the new pay plan was put in place to save money for the dealership.
The court found that Segovia failed to establish she was the object of harassment because of her gender. The lawsuit claimed Segovia was subjected to gender discrimination and severe harassment resulting in a hostile work environment
Alva Carter Sr. owns 51 percent of the dealership. His two sons, Alan and Alva Jr., bought Chuck Daggett out of the remaining 49 percent in April of 2003.