Car dealership owner wins back legal fees

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

A U.S. district court has ruled in favor of a car dealership owner in court action related to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The ruling allows the car dealer to recoup some or possibly all of his $185,000 in legal expenses.

Alva Carter, owner of Big Valley Auto in Portales, won a counter-lawsuit in mid-November with a judgment sent down to reimburse him for expenses incurred in his defense. According to court documents, the court found that the claims brought against Big Valley Auto were frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation.

“It’s a great deal to win,” Carter said. “It shows we were right. I felt the judge saw that there was no truth in what they were saying and kicked it out.”

Carter said he spent $185,000 on legal fees and his attorney Linda Hemphill put together the receipts and expenses for reimbursement from the EEOC.

“We won’t know how much the court will award for some time,” Hemphill said. “Nevertheless, we view it as a significant victory that the judge made the ruling that he made. I thought the judge’s decision was excellent and well-reasoned.”

The EEOC representatives also entered a request for a new trial and the district court officials denied the request. EEOC officials introduced a motion to amend the court’s findings and a motion for a new trial, according to court documents.

Senior U.S. District Judge John Edwards Conway oversaw the case and the original trial took place from May 5 and ended on May 9. The EEOC members filed a motion to have a new trial on July 14 and Hemphill filed a motion on behalf of Carter requesting legal fees be reimbursed in the middle of July.

According to court documents, the court reiterates its conclusion that the plaintiff failed to meet its burden of proof at trial on its claims alleging discrimination, harassment, retaliation or hostile work environment.

“The other opinion, asking the court to change the findings of fact and conclusions of law and asking for a new trial, shows that the EEOC was trying to take a second bite of the apple and the judge refused to allow them to do that affirming that he thought his decision was the correct one,” Hemphill said. “I agree with the judge’s ruling on this.”

Marla Segovia said she had no comment on the district court ruling. Calls were placed to EEOC attorney Loretta Medina, but were not returned.

The federal lawsuit between Segovia and Big Valley Auto asked for more than $350,000 in punitive damages and was filed in late August of 2003. The EEOC alleged the harassment occurred from July 2000 to at least September 2001.

The court found that Segovia failed to establish she was the object of harassment because of her gender in the initial ruling. The lawsuit claimed Segovia was subjected to gender discrimination and severe harassment resulting in a hostile work environment.

• July 2000 to September 2001 — Plaintiffs alleged harassment at Big Valley Auto

• August of 2003 — Plaintiffs file lawsuit against Big Valley Auto asking for more than $350,000 in punitive damages

• May 5-May 9 — Trial takes place

• June 30 — District court releases findings in favor of Big Valley Auto

• July 14 — Equal Employment Opportunity Commission files motion requesting a new trial

• July 14 — Alva Carter files motion asking legal fees be reimbursed

• November — District court releases findings denying a new trial and in favor of granting Carter reimbursement of legal fees