ABM Industries, which provides building maintenance and parking services at office buildings and other commercial sites throughout the U.S. and Canada, has settled a class action suit with 21 female janitorial workers who were sexually harassed by co-workers for $5.8 million. The women, who worked at sites in Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield, described their harrowing daily ordeals at the hands of male employees of ABM during an early September news conference at the Los Angeles District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The alleged pattern of sexual harassment and assault began over ten years ago, and included inappropriate behavior by supervisors, as well as one registered sex offender employed by ABM who was accused of raping a female worker. Some of the plaintiffs described being groped by the men, cornered in bathrooms and forced to touch them in a sexual manner.
One woman recalled how her complaints to other supervisors were ignored. "I asked for help and they wouldn't help me, and instead my supervisor would laugh at me even more," she told reporters. "It was easier for the company to let me go and that's what they did." Another became so distraught when retelling her story of the abusive conduct she experienced that the press conference had to be suspended.
The settlement includes a stipulation that the EEOC will be allowed to monitor ABM for three years to promote a safer workplace for women. Reports of sexual harassment and assault from as recently as 2009 have been alleged at other ABM worksites, and six of 14 supervisors identified by the plaintiffs are still on the payroll. ABM expressed its satisfaction that the matter had been resolved, but stopped short of admitting wrongdoing.
Legal Options for Employees Who Suffer Workplace Harassment
Employees who are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace may be eligible for protection and legal recourse under a well developed set of state and federal laws. These laws tend to focus on two types of sexually charged workplace behaviors: requests by a supervisor or other person of authority for sexual favors in exchange for job security or a promotion; and failure by an employer to enforce and promote a workplace atmosphere that is free of harassing jokes, gestures and other offensive messages and actions.
Aggrieved employees who consult with an experienced California employment law attorney can learn a great deal about their legal options and the precise types of evidence necessary to prove a claim. While sexual harassment is no longer widely tolerated in American society, the ABM case suggests the disturbing extent to which it still thrives in some places. Knowledge is power, and a trial lawyer's advice can help a harassed worker take the first steps toward a just result and equitable compensation for unacceptable behavior.