BOSTON - Atlantic Capes Fisheries, Inc. (ACF), a New Jersey-based shellfish harvester and processor, and BJ's Service Co., Inc., a staffing agency located in New Bedford, Mass., will pay $675,000 and furnish other relief to settle a lawsuit charging sex-based harassment and retaliation filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, women at ACF's Fall River, Mass., facility have been subject to ongoing and egregious sex harassment since at least 2013. The sex harassment, which the EEOC alleged was perpetrated by male managers, line supervisors and co-workers, included unwanted touching, solicitations for sex, and crude comments about female workers' bodies. Despite knowledge of the pervasive harassment, neither ACF nor BJ's made any efforts to stop the harassment or punish the harassers, the EEOC charged. Additionally, the two companies fired two of the women, Mirna Pacaja and Paula Carrillo, after they filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC, according to the lawsuit.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 1:17-cv-11860) in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Sept. 27, 2017 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Under the terms of the four-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit, women who have worked at ACF's Fall River facility at any time since January 2013 and who have experienced sexual harassment will be eligible to receive a portion of the settlement. The decree requires both employers to create and/or revise policies prohibiting sex discrimination (including harassment) and retaliation and provide related training to their managers and workers. The policies and training must be available in both English and Spanish, as most workers in ACF's Fall River facility are Spanish speakers.
In addition, the decree requires both employers to retain, track, and investigate complaints of sex harassment and to provide copies of those complaints to the EEOC for the duration of the decree. The decree also requires that ACF employ a human resources professional who is bilingual in English and Spanish.
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 opposition to sexual harassment.
"Even in the era of the 'Me Too,' movement, many employees, especially low-wage and immigrant workers, fear bringing complaints of sex harassment forward," said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Sara Smolik. "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."
EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein said, "The decree ensures that ACF and BJ's comply with the law and provide crucial training and policy changes that will educate their workforce about their rights under Title VII. We are hopeful that with these changes, ACF and BJ's will exemplify best employment practices in the seafood industry on the Massachusetts South Coast."
EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry added, "All employers should be aware that they have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment of their employees. Employers must also make sure that they have multiple avenues for employees to complain about harassment and that those avenues of complaint are clear and shared with all staff."
Sara Smolik and Adela Santos were the EEOC's lead trial attorneys for this case.