A federal judge ruled Wednesday that three Rochester women were sexually discriminated against when they were dismissed from their chauffeur jobs after a Saudi prince demanded only male drivers.

The women, Gretchen Cooper, 40, Barbara Herold, 68, and Lisa Boutelle, 53, were among 40 drivers hired in October 2010 to escort Prince Abdul-Rahman bin Abdul-Aziz and a large group of family members and friends while the prince was in town for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic, their suit says.

The women say they were immediately let go when the prince and his entourage told the U.S.-based companies that hired them that he wanted only male limousine operators.

They filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 in Minneapolis, alleging sex discrimination by the prince. The suit also named as defendants Mohamed Ali Elbashir, who does business in Rochester as Crown Prince Limousine, Premier Crescent Services of Rochester and Highland International Transportation Services of New York. The latter two firms allegedly hired drivers for the prince.

The women settled with Premier and Highland in March.

Cooper had previously driven a Saudi princess and made good money, so she was excited to pick up the prince at the airport two years later for what was supposed to be a monthlong job, she told the Star Tribune in 2012.

But when she arrived at the Kahler Hotel the next morning to resume driving, the suit says, Cooper was told by Elbashir to clear her things out of the limo. A representative from Premier Crescent Services told her the prince did not want female drivers.

The suit says Boutelle and Herold were told the same thing. “They said their hands were tied, and not to take it personally,” Cooper said.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, according to the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch.

U.S. District Judge Joan N. Eriksen granted a default judgment after the prince and Elbashir failed to respond. Upon default, factual allegations of a complaint are taken as true. Eriksen ruled the evidence sufficient to support a cause of action for sex discrimination.

 

Staff writer Dan Browning contributed to this report.