Local dealership owner wins legal fees back

Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer

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

Carter 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.”

Marla Segovia, who alleged she was a victim of harassment, said she had no comment on the district court ruling. Calls placed to EEOC attorney Loretta Medina were not returned.

The federal lawsuit, filed in August of 2003, asked for more than $350,000 in punitive damages. The EEOC alleged Segovia was a victim of harassment 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. The lawsuit claimed Segovia was subjected to gender discrimination and severe harassment resulting in a hostile work environment.

EEOC representatives asked for a new trial, but district court officials denied the request.

Carter then requested legal fees be reimbursed.