Halunen Pursues Justice in Oil Fields of North Dakota

February 10th, 2015

A woman who worked as an oil field pump operator in the Williston, N.D. area with a Texas-based oil services company, is suing her former employer for gender discrimination, equal pay law violations and retaliation, according to a complaint filed today in federal district court in North Dakota by the Minneapolis-based Halunen Law firm.

Cindy Marchello, an Ogden, Utah resident, alleges that management at C&J Services, Inc. created such intolerable working conditions as to cause her to quit her job. The downward spiral in her workplace treatment accelerated after she filed a human rights complaint against the company with the federal EEOC in August 2014, according to the lawsuit. However, the EEOC complaint came about only after Marchello endured numerous gender-related “insults and indignities” from her supervisors and occasionally from co-workers as well.

“The complaint alleges that C&J punished Cindy Marchello for working in a male-dominated field and for courageously reporting discrimination to authorities. That sort of behavior by an employer is illegal,” says Clayton Halunen, an attorney with the Halunen Law representing Marchello. “The allegations in the complaint present a harrowing picture of how difficult it was for Ms. Marchello to survive for as long as she did working in such a mean-spirited and misogynistic environment. I have no doubt that a jury of her peers will find her story convincing and that she will prevail.”

C&J Services hired Marchello in October 2012, to work as a Class B Pump Operator in the oil fields. As a certified diesel mechanic and with three years of oil shale fracking work experience under her belt, she had the requisite skills for the job. She started working the same time as several other new hires, all men and all working the same types of jobs.

Her beginning wage was $21 per hour. She agreed to work a “21/21” schedule, meaning she worked 12-hour shifts for 21 days straight, followed by 21 days of time off with full pay. With overtime, she was soon on track to make $120,000 a year. It’s the kind of pay that helps people justify putting in long workdays in the harsh environment of the oil fields.

However, Marchello’s time as a pump operator was cut short.  An official with a C&J client company, Kodiak Oil & Gas, allegedly told her boss – after spotting her on his work site — that he didn’t like women working in the field, according to the complaint. Her manager then assigned her the backbreaking task of lugging 50-pound buckets of chemicals around the site for 12 hours a day – a job normally divided between all crewmembers.

Next, C&J pulled her away from field duties to a desk job at the local C&J offices. She had no office skills or training, and pleaded to get her old job back. However, her manager said it was “too dangerous” and “too cold” for her in the field, according to the complaint. Office work offered no opportunities for overtime pay, so her expected annual income shriveled to less than 50 percent of what she could make working outside. The company also threatened to cut other benefits such as per diem pay and paid housing.

Ironically, one of her new tasks in the office was to handle payroll. In so doing, the complaint alleges, she learned she was being paid $2 an hour less than men with equivalent experience and tenure with the company, a clear violation of North Dakota’s equal pay for equal work law.  When she complained, her supervisor told her to “shut her mouth” if she wanted to keep her job, according to the complaint.

Then a new supervisor arrived, one who allegedly made it clear that he wanted her gone from the company. “You and I have to get along,” she told the new man. She alleges in the complaint that he responded, “You will suffer a cruel, slow death at my hands.”

Finally, she filed a discrimination complaint with the federal EEOC in August 2014. Shortly after that, two officials from the corporate human resources office arrived to meet with her and discuss the complaint. One told her she was a “flighty troublemaker,” and that “as soon as we make this EEOC thing go away,” they would cut her pay and benefits further, according to the lawsuit.

Stressed and fearing for her health and well-being, Marchello resigned from the company in October 2014.

She alleges violations of state and federal laws, including discrimination and reprisal in violation of the North Dakota Human Rights Act, Title VII and the North Dakota Equal Pay Act.

The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate for lost wages and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages.

“The pattern of abuse and mistreatment alleged by our client is nearly sinister in scope,” says Clayton Halunen, managing partner of Halunen Law. “It’s shocking to think that a woman employee could be treated in such a discriminatory manner today by an American company operating in an American state. Every woman has a right to fair and equitable treatment, no matter whether she’s working in the rugged shale oil fields of North Dakota or the shimmering office towers of Manhattan. We are pleased to represent Ms. Marchello in her lawsuit, as we would be to represent anyone, man or woman, who believes themselves to be a victim of illegal workplace discrimination and retaliation.”

Read more:

KTTC article.

WCCO article.

Star Tribune article.

About Halunen Law

With offices in Minneapolis and Chicago, Halunen Law offers experienced legal representation to employees, consumers and whistleblowers in individual and class actions.  Halunen Law has achieved a reputation as a fearless, tenacious and successful plaintiffs’ law firm, with a laser focus on achieving justice for its clients as well as meaningful social change. For information on the firm, visit the firm’s website at halunenlaw.com.

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