Atlantic Capes Fisheries and BJ’s Service Company, Inc. have agreed to pay a total of USD 675,000 (EUR 587,600) in a settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission related to four women who said they were sexually harassed in the workplace.
The lawsuit, which was settled on 30 January, stems from allegations by the EEOC that sexual harassment was perpetrated by managers, line supervisors, and co-workers of IQF Custom Packing Inc. in Fall River, Massachusetts. The allegations include unwanted touching, solicitations for sex, and crude comments, according to the EEOC, which constitute violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The settlement will be paid out between Atlantic Capes and BJ’s – a staffing agency located in New Bedford, Massachussets. The terms include Atlantic Capes paying USD 130,000 (EUR 113,000) to three women, and USD 75,000 (EUR 65,200) to one woman. According to Atlantic Capes, three of the women have decided to remain employed with the company, while the workers who harassed the women are no longer employed at either company.
According to Atlantic Capes, the lawsuit stems from claims that “largely predate” the company’s acquisition of the Fall River packing facility in 2013.
“When ACF acquired the Fall River facility in 2013, it immediately put in place equal opportunity, anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment policies and practices. ACF initially kept the IQF management team in place for the sake of continuity, and were only belatedly made aware of the allegations that gave rise to this lawsuit,” Atlantic Capes said in a release. “As soon as ACF management learned of general allegations of harassment, the company immediately invited workers to come forward and share specific concerns and hired counsel to assist in investigating these complaints.”
The EEOC paints a different picture. In the lawsuit, the commission claims that neither Atlantic Capes nor BJ’s made any effort to stop the harassment or punish the harassers, and when two of the women filed harassment charges with the commission, the companies fired them.
“The consent decree resolving the case, which was approved by the court today, enjoins ACF and BJ's from violating Title VII by allowing sex harassment of employees to occur and by retaliating against any individual who has opposed practices made illegal under the statute, including oppo¬sition to sexual harassment,” the EEOC said in a release.
In addition, the consent decree resolving the case carries terms requiring Atlantic Capes and BJ’s to revise their current discrimination policies and training. It also requires that Atlantic Capes employ a bilingual human resources professional fluent in English and Spanish, as most workers in the Fall River facility are Spanish-speakers.
"Even in the era of the 'Me Too,' movement, many employees, especially low-wage and immigrant workers, fear bringing complaints of sex harassment forward," EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Sara Smolik said. "The brave four women who filed discrimination charges with the EEOC in this case alerted the agency to widespread sex harassment that was adversely affecting them and many of their female co-workers in the facility. Because they had the courage to step forward, the EEOC was able to investigate and bring this lawsuit to improve the working conditions for everyone."