A former field engineer told jurors her allegations of the pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination she suffered on rig sites and elsewhere while working for Schlumberger and how her reporting the conduct led to retaliation when her rig assignments dried up and she was offered a lower-paying job in Alaska that she viewed as a demotion, forcing her resignation.
Jessica Cheatham, 36, testified Thursday and Friday about the experiences during her two-and-a-half-year employment with the oilfield services company that led to her filing suit in September 2020. She told jurors how she grew up working in her family’s business doing heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical work.
“I grew up working in a male-dominated industry,” she said. “But I survived.”
That experience, she said, helped keep her from being deterred when she was one of the few women taking chemical engineering classes in college.
But those experiences stand in stark contrast to what she told jurors she experienced on remote rig sites working for Schlumberger, where she was usually the only woman working and living with a crew of 20 men.
“It could be terrifying,” she said, and working with her former supervisor, Kenny Fusilier, became “a nightmare.”
In January 2018, after about three months on the job, Fusilier was teaching her how to input survey information into the computer when he allegedly told her, “If you mess up this survey, I’m going to bend you over my knee and spank you. And you’ll like it.”
“He thought it was funny. I was shocked,” she testified, teary-eyed. “I felt disgusted.”
Cheatham said soon after making the comment Fusilier laid on a nearby couch in the trailer that contained the crews’ office and its living and sleeping quarters and turned on the Playboy channel. During cross-examination, Setara Ozan-Foster of The Kullman Firm made a point that Cheatham had left that detail out of her formal written complaint detailing the incident.
“There was a lot going on,” Cheatham told Ozan-Foster regarding the omission in her report.
Another incident involving Fusilier happened when he was teaching Cheatham to clean a tool used in the oilfield and when referring to the male and female parts of the instrument, repeatedly used the word “pussy,” and instructed her to “keep going deeper while thrusting up and down … you know all about this.”
When Cheatham was driving to Schlumberger’s Midland headquarters to speak to a human resources employee about the incidents with Fusilier, she was rear-ended by another driver who fled the scene.
In her written report about that incident, she noted that she was traveling to headquarters to return a jacket to a colleague. She told the jury she was going to headquarters to do both things: meet with HR and return a jacket.
Ozan-Foster asked a series of questions during cross-examination about why Cheatham hadn’t written anything about going to headquarters to report the alleged sexual harassment, drawing an objection from Cheatham’s attorney, Andrew Macurdy of Sanford Heisler Sharp.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt agreed with Macurdy.
“You’re asking her if she could have written it differently, and I think that’s an improper way to impeach,” he said to Ozan-Foster. “I’m going to sustain the objection.”
Jurors also heard testimony from Cheatham’s older sister, Jennifer Cheatham, 40, who tearfully told jurors of the phone call she received from Jessica following the incident with Fusilier.
Jennifer Cheatham told jurors her sister said in September 2017 when she started with Schlumberger that she felt like she had “won the lottery” in when she was hired.
But after the sexual harassment she allegedly experienced, things changed, she said.
“She was distraught … her light had been dimmed,” Jennifer Cheatham said.
After leaving Schlumberger in January 2020, jurors heard Jessica Cheatham had a string of short-lived jobs that paid her less and didn’t allow her to use her engineering background, including working as a roustabout on rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and as customer service representative at Ally Bank.
She said she suffered from depression and anxiety, had trouble sleeping and maintaining weight and has suffered hair loss.
“I wanted to take the whole bottle,” she tearfully told the jury, referring to the sleeping medication a doctor had prescribed her.
Macurdy asked Cheatham why she wanted to bring this lawsuit.
“To get my voice back,” she said. “To get some sliver of my self-worth back, and to shed light on the sexual harassment and discrimination I suffered and on the company that accepted that pervasive behavior.”
In June 2022, she signed on to work for Halliburton as a mud engineer, responsible for managing the fluids used in drilling.
Closing out her cross-examination, Ozan-Foster asked Cheatham whether it would be fair to say that, considering she’s now working for Halliburton — a company she said she wants to retire from — that her experiences at Schlumberger hadn’t “derailed” her career as she testified earlier.
“It’s fair to say I didn’t allow Schlumberger to take that from me,” Cheatham said.
Trial began July 17 with jury selection and is expected to last about 10 days.
Cheatham is also represented by Michael D. Palmer, Russell L. Kornblith, David H. Tracey, Nicole E. Wiitala, Carolin E. Guentert and Alok K. Nadig of Sanford Heisler Sharp, Todd Slobin of Shellist Lazarz Slobin and Melinda Arbuckle of Wage and Hour Firm.
Schlumberger is also represented by Benjamin Landau-Beispiel, Benjamin P. Kahn, Cecily Kaffer, Samuel Zurik III and MaryJo J. Roberts of The Kullman Firm and Samantha Shear of Jones Walker.
The case number is 4:20-cv-02193.