By Filipowski, Diane
Personnel Journal , Vol. 70, No. 12
In 1986, Janella Sue Martin, a 48-year-old credit supervisor, filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against Texaco Refining & Marketing Inc., a subsidiary of White Plains, New York-based Texaco Inc. Little did she know that the jury, made up mostly of men, would come back in October with a $20.3 million judgment, the largest ever granted to an individual in a sex discrimination case.
The case has garnered national attention because Martin was awarded $15 million in punitive damages, a sum intended as punishment for Texaco's intentional or reckless wrongdoing. Legal experts say Martin has succeeded at sending out a message to corporate America that sex discrimination will be taken seriously by the courts.
The case, however, is far from being over. Texaco has said it will appeal the judgement, which at press time had not yet been approved by Superior Court Judge Ronald Cappai. As a part of the judgment, Martin will be awarded a management position at Texaco. She has asked Judge Cappai that she be named credit manager, the position for which she had been passed over for a promotion and which consequently was the basis of the suit.
Q. Sex discrimination cases can take years to settle and take an emotional toll on the people who file them. Knowing this, what made you decide to file this lawsuit against Texaco?
A. The discrimination was just too blatant and something needed to be done. I'm the kind of person who says "Those of us who can, should, and we should do it for ourselves, but we also should do it for those who can't." I observed at Texaco over the years that there were a number of single mothers who feared for their jobs, who perhaps didn't have the support or the means to file lawsuits against the company. They were essentially powerless. I had the means, the support system and the power to do it. I felt almost obligated to do it, not only for myself but for them.
Q. What sort of sex discrimination did you experience at Texaco?
A. Between 1982 and 1985, I was passed over four times for promotions. The one for which I filed the lawsuit was the fifth. In about mid-1984, my manager in Houston started talking to me about a job in Los Angeles. He told me that if I would go out there with a supervisor's title and get the department set up and running, I would be promoted as soon as a manager's title was created. So I went, and I worked 10, 12, 14 hours a day for eight months. I handled $200 million a month in the company's receivables and didn't lose a dollar. At the end of eight months, this same guy flew out from Texas to tell me that they had created the manager's title, but I wasn't going to get it. We talked for a couple of hours, and finally, I told him, "Don't go back to Houston thinking you've got this problem solved, because you don't. I'm going to fight you on this one." He said that he wanted to tell me a little story and proceded to tell a very personal story that ended with this sentence: "I told that guy if you ever cross me again, you'll be walking down an alley and you'll get a tap on the shoulder, and you'll have an accident." This was after he had told me he had connections that most normal people didn't have. I interpreted it as a threat.
Q. This isn't the first time that you've challenged Texaco concerning sex discrimination is it?
A. No. In 1971, I found out by accident that a credit trainee position, which was an entry-level position in the credit department, was being created in Texaco's Little Rock, Arkansas, office. I went to our manager and told him that I would be interested in it. I was told "no woman will ever have that job." And I said, "We'll see about that." I filed an EEOC complaint, just as I did in this last case. I went through the whole process, and Texaco never offered to settle, as they didn't in this case. At the end of that process, I filed a lawsuit and the morning that we were to go to court, the president of the company called the manager to whom I reported at the the time and told him to give me what I had asked for. …