HOUSTON (CN) – An Algerian woman claims in a sexual-harassment lawsuit that Qatar’s consul general in Houston made her keep a picture of him at all times in her wallet and fired her when she refused to give in to his advances.
Ghania Brakchi sued the Consulate General of the State of Qatar on Friday in Houston federal court. Her allegations center on the Houston consul general, Mohammed Al-Homaid.
Brakchi says in the lawsuit she started working at the Qatar embassy in Houston in 2010 as a translator and secretary and soon became a favorite of Al-Homaid, in part because she was the only woman in the office who didn’t cover her skin, a custom in Qatar.
“Al-Homaid insisted that she go to events, like political speeches, with him,” the lawsuit states.
Brakchi says Al-Homaid frequently called her into his office to sit by him and made her uncomfortable by staring at her body and complimenting her looks and perfume.
“He would require that she lean over him at his computer to open his email or internet browser, and other tasks that he knew how to perform on the computer,” the complaint states.
Though both Al-Homaid and Brakchi are married, Brakchi says, the alleged harassment wasn’t confined to their workplace.
She claims Al-Homaid bought her a cellphone, frequently called and texted her outside of work hours, sometimes in the middle of the night, and even called her “repeatedly for no reason” while she was in the emergency room with her ailing daughter.
But Brakchi alleges the phone calls weren’t the only way Al-Homaid manipulated her.
“Al-Homaid required plaintiff to carry a passport sized photo of him in her wallet at all times. He threatened to fire her if she was found without his picture in her wallet,” the lawsuit states.
Brakchi says Al-Homaid also bought her a necklace, gold ring and perfume and asked her to travel to New York with him on business trips and to leave her husband at home.
Brakchi was fired in December 2015 for “her refusal to engage in a sexual relationship with Mr. Al-Hamaid,” according to the complaint.
She seeks punitive damages for claims of discriminatory termination and hostile work environment, and is represented by Matias Adrogué in Houston.
A public relations officer for the consulate general’s office didn’t immediately respond Monday morning to a request for comment on the allegations.
U.S. courts typically don’t have jurisdiction over foreign governments and their officials, as set out in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.
But there’s a “commercial activity” exception that overrides a foreign government’s immunity against being sued in the United States.
Brakchi says in her lawsuit this exception applies to her job at the Qatar embassy in Houston because her duties were “commercial in nature, not governmental” and “she was not involved in sovereign law or policy.”
The Qatari embassy is one of 87 foreign embassies in Houston, by some measures the most diverse city in the United States.
Qatar also holds some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas, so it has a strategic interest in Houston because the city is the U.S. headquarters of industry leading multinationals Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and BP, as well as dozens of smaller oil-drilling firms.
Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council along with its Middle Eastern neighbors the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Bahrain.
Accused of funding and supporting terrorism by four members of the council, Qatar is facing a July 3 deadline to comply with their demands to shut down its Al-Jazeera Media Network and cut ties with Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, under threat of its ouster from the group, the Associated Press reported.