A Superior Court jury awarded more than $6 million to a Los Angeles woman Wednesday in a sex-discrimination case against Texaco Inc. Labor attorneys said it was the largest amount ever awarded to an individual .
Lawyers said Wednesday that the award, which could be increased Friday when the same jury decides on punitive damages, sends a strong message to large corporations about the risks in biased promotion practices.
The decision sets a precedent, in that it awards a significant amount to middle management, a group that has not been represented in such bias complaints before, a source close to the case said.
The award for actual damages must still be approved by Superior Court Judge Ronald Cappai. Janella Sue Martin, who filed the suit in 1986, has worked as a credit supervisor in the oil company's western region since 1984. She accused Texaco of passing her over twice when credit management positions were created.
As a result, Martin said, she earned less money than the two men who got the jobs, and she suffered emotionally. The 48-year-old Martin still works for Texaco as a credit supervisor. She continued to work throughout the case.
Martin and attorneys for Texaco would not comment after the jury handed down its decision. Attorneys in the case said they did not want any comment of theirs to prompt a mistrial. Judge Cappai declared a mistrial in August because some jurors said they had heard a description of the case on radio.
A new jury, impaneled last month, was instructed Wednesday to avoid media reports of the case. The trial is not over until the jury of seven men and five women decides on punitive damages. Those deliberations are to begin Friday.
Texaco's attorneys would not say whether the company would appeal the award of nearly $6.3 million. Dan Stormer, Martin's lawyer, predicted that Texaco, based in White Plains, N.Y., would appeal the jury's final decision.
Joan Graff, director of the San Francisco-based Employment Law Center and an expert on women in the workplace, called the outcome of the suit a stunning victory for Martin, in particular, and for women in general.
"It lends substance to the Department of Labor report that glass ceilings exist," she said, referring to a government study issued this summer. "It gives women the opportunity to challenge (discriminatory employers) with more confidence."
Graff added that the amount was the largest ever awarded to one person in a sex discrimination case.
Frank Cronin, an attorney who regularly defends large corporations in cases similar to Martin's, said such lawsuits are common but the amount awarded to Martin was uncommon and "grossly excessive." He predicted that Cappai would reduce the award.
Martin has challenged Texaco once before, over problems in a previous job. In 1972, she filed a complaint against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging unlawful sex discrimination and violation of her civil rights.
That complaint was resolved in 1977, and Martin subsequently was promoted to her current position of credit supervisor. The two cases are unrelated. Cappai ruled that the first case could not be mentioned during the current trial.