Judge Orders Shell and Subsidiary to Pay $5.3 Million
Jun. 18, 1991
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ A state judge ordered Shell Oil to pay $5.3 million over a gay executive's firing that the judge said violated the company's procedures.
Shell executives discovered Jeffrey Collins was gay after his secretary turned over a copy of a memo he had written regarding safe-sex rules for a party planned by Collins' gay sex club. Collins used a company computer and printer to draft the note.
Collins' attorney, Paul Freud Wotman, said Monday the judgment represents one of the largest awards ever made in a gay-related wrongful termination case. The decision included $2 million in punitive damages.
''This case presents the relatively new issue of how far a corporation may go in demanding that its managerial staff, in their respective private lives, deport and conduct themselves in a manner acceptable to and meeting the corporation's concept of propriety,'' Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Taber said in her decision Thursday.
Shell spokeswoman Eydie Pengelly said Monday the company was disappointed with the decision and was examining the case to see if it would appeal. She declined to comment further.
Taber wrote that Shell had originally said it fired Collins for writing the memo at the office. The company then said Collins was fired because he used company equipment to write the memo, but Shell finally cited a reevaluation of his work performance, Taber said.
The reevaluation contradicted 19 years of positive evaluations and lauded accomplishments, the judge said.
Collins was making $115,000 a year as director of theraputic products for Shell's Alameda, Calif.-based subsidiary, Triton Biosciences Inc., when he was fired in December, 1985. Triton projects included work on potential AIDS drugs.
Taber noted in the decision that Shell had ''repeatedly assured their employees and would-be employees that Shell's employees would be judged only on their job performance, and as long as that remained satisfactory, they would have lifetime employment.''
Collins said he'd ''never taken great steps'' to hide his homosexuality from his employers. ''I was really surprised'' by the firing, he added.
He said he sent out hundreds of job applications, with no success, after being fired. Collins, who holds a veterinary degree from Purdue University, is working as a dog shipper at a San Francisco veterinary clinic at about 20 percent of his Triton salary.