Three female chauffeurs won their discrimination case against a Saudi prince who caused the women to lose their jobs after he demanded that only male drivers be allowed to chauffer him and his entourage around. The drivers filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in 2012 after Prince Abdul-Rahman bin Abdul-Aziz complained about the women. In 2010, the prince travelled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for medical treatment.
Reports The Associated Press on Jan. 30, via ABC News: “U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen on Thursday awarded $130,000 each to Gretchen Cooper, Barbara Herold and Lisa Boutelle. In November, Ericksen ruled in favor of the three women, who filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in 2012 in Minneapolis.”
In October of 2010, three limousine companies had contracted with the prince to be on-call, 24 hours a day, for the prince, his family and his companions. The one-month assignment involved forty limousine chauffeurs. On the second day, the prince insisted that only male drivers be allowed to operate the limousines and pressured the U.S.-based companies to dismiss the women. The companies acquiesced, and three of the women were fired.
U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen found that the women were sexually discriminated against and unlawfully fired from what would potentially be lucrative work.
Reports Minnesota’s Star-Tribune: “Gretchen Cooper previously drove for a Saudi princess and earned $50 a day in tips alone, according to the 2012 complaint.” The women each wrote testimonial letters to the judge, describing the impact of their job loss.
“Cooper said she had looked forward to using the money from the chauffeur work to launch a greeting card business so she could work from home and care for her youngest daughter. Boutelle and Herold described eager dashes to grab new clothes to look presentable for their first days on the job,” the Star-Tribune reported.
While the women who filed the discrimination suit were granted $130,000 each ($100K for mental anguish and $30K for lost wages), they each had sought undisclosed punitive damages as well. However, judge Ericksen ruled that “while the defendants may have acted unlawfully, the plaintiffs have not shown that they acted with deliberate disregard or malice.”
According to the Human Rights Watch, women are banned from driving vehicles in Saudi Arabia. Doing so would allegedly “lead to many evils and negative consequences.” The Arab state has a discriminatory male guardianship structure in place, which forbids women from traveling outside the country, obtaining a passport, getting a higher education, even marrying, divorcing or petitioning for custody of children, unless an immediate male relative or husband allows it.
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Lisa Stratton, an attorney for Gender Justice, a Minnesota-based legal advocacy group, represented the three women.
“The key issue for us is people know now that it is not legal in the state of Minnesota or the United States to discriminate because your customer asks you to,” Stratton said. “When you do business in the United States, the law of the United States applies.”