3 female chauffeurs win $130K each in discrimination case with Saudi prince

MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal judge has awarded damages to three Minnesota women who sued after they were dismissed from their chauffeur jobs because a Saudi prince wanted only male drivers.

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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 favour of the three women, who filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in 2012 in Minneapolis.

The women received $100,000 each for mental anguish and suffering under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Star Tribune reported. Erickson doubled the $15,000 that each woman sought for wage loss, to $30,000, but did not grant punitive damages, saying that while the defendants may have acted unlawfully, the women bringing the lawsuit had not shown they acted with "deliberate disregard or malice."

The women were among 40 drivers hired in October 2010 to chauffeur Prince Abdul-Rahman bin Abdul-Aziz, his family and friends while the prince was treated at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The lawsuit alleged that the prince and his entourage told the limousine companies they wanted male chauffeurs. Women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from driving.

Two of the three companies involved have settled with the women. Crown Prince Limousine remained a defendant. Online court records did not list an attorney to comment on behalf of Mohamed Ali Elbashir, who does business in Minnesota as Crown Prince Limousine, or the prince. The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C., was closed Saturday.

The women were represented by Gender Justice, a legal advocacy organization based in St. Paul. Lisa Stratton, one of the women's attorneys, praised the judge's order.

"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."


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