Three days after a jury issued a more than $3 million plaintiff’s verdict, National Oilwell Varco and Manasseh Simmonds, an African-American welder who used to work for the company, have tentatively reached a settlement. The plaintiff filed an advisory to the court on May 19 regarding the tentative deal.
Neither side would comment on the dollar value of the proposed settlement.
The jury verdict was based on only one claim of alleged retaliation by National Oilwell Varco against Simmonds for activity protected by the nation’s antidiscrimination laws.
Jurors awarded the welder $775,000 in back pay and damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages.
Mark Oberti, a partner in Oberti Sullivan who represents Simmonds in Manasseh Simmonds v. National Oil Varco, LP, declined to comment.
“It’s over now,” said Michael D. Mitchell, a shareholder in Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart in Houston who represents National Oilwell Varco. Mitchell said he was disappointed with the verdict, which came after a two-day trial.
He also said he’s disappointed by the lack of opportunity to learn from the jury about how and why it reached its conclusions, since panel members declined to answer the lawyers’ questions after the trial.
In a complaint filed July 12, 2012, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, Simmonds alleged that after he had worked for the company for four years and received favorable reviews, he asked for a raise, and a newly hired foreman responded by saying, “You are a black man making more money than me!”
Subsequently, according to the complaint, Simmonds told another supervisor that coworkers “had volunteered to be witnesses for the harassing and discriminating way that foreman Stuckey had been treating him.” In response, the supervisor told Simmonds that he would be reported to a company vice president.
According to the complaint, the very next day, on April 1, 2009, the company terminated Simmonds “under the pretense” that his performance had been deficient. “In actuality, Simmonds was terminated in retaliation for his protected activity and complaints,” the complaint stated.
In an answer filed Sept. 24, 2012, the company denied the allegations and stated as an affirmative defense, “Any and all actions taken with regard to plaintiff’s employment were made in good faith and were based upon legitimate, nondiscriminatory, nonretaliatory reasons.”
On the jury charge, the panel was asked if the company had taken “adverse employment action” because Simmonds had “engaged in protective activity.” The jurors answered yes and awarded punitive damages.