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Anna Park's Remarks

Today we announce the settlement of a lawsuit that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed against ABM Industries, ABM Janitorial Services, Inc., and ABM Janitorial Services of Northern California, referred to collectively as ABM.

The EEOC brought the lawsuit on behalf of a class of women, many predominantly monolingual Spanish speaking women who worked as janitors for ABM.

These women often worked late nights in office buildings and churches, never seen by anyone, but silently suffering from terrible working conditions. These women were vulnerable and isolated, yet found the courage to come forward to tell what happened to them. The women worked predominantly in and around central California, specifically in Fresno, Bakersfield and the Visalia region.

They were subjected to varying degrees of unwelcome touching, explicit sexual comments, and requests for sex. They also received invitations to hotels by 14 male co-workers and supervisors, one of whom is a registered sex offender.  

Some of the male supervisors and co-workers exposed themselves to the women, and groped them in their vaginal area. They also grabbed breasts, and forced the women to touch an erect penis.

In one case, a woman was cleaning the bathroom, when a supervisor attempted to assault her by closing the door to the restroom, turning off the lights, and grabbing her legs and buttocks.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of this case involved a woman who was raped. Other women were subjected to attempted assaults and sexual battery.

Some of the claimants will tell you that when some of them were brave enough to complain, their hours were cut, and ultimately, they lost their jobs.  In other instances, the complaints fell on deaf ears, either because the supervisors or leads did not know how to handle them properly, or because they simply did not respond effectively.  

Unfortunately, when action was taken, it was too late, and it did not prevent future harassment from occurring.  The EEOC discovered that harassment occurred over an extensive period of time, beginning as early as 2001, through 2009. The most serious allegations occurred between 2005 - 2009.

This harassment led to a culture of silent suffering and fear.

We are pleased today to announce that after several years of litigation, the EEOC settled the federal lawsuit with ABM for $5.8 million dollars on behalf of a class of 21 women who were brave enough to come forward.

More importantly, aside from the monetary relief, we are very pleased to announce sweeping injunctive relief remedies that ABM agreed to enter into, to ensure that what these women described will not occur again.

The specific terms of the settlement (term for 3 years) include:

  • Designation of an EEO monitor to ensure that investigations into complaints are effectively handled;
  • Ensuring that policies and procedures are in place that are effective in preventing sexual harassment;
  • Extensive training of managerial and non-managerial staff, with an emphasis on holding managers accountable for actions and inactions;
  • Ensuring that those tasked with investigating internal complaints are properly trained, and that complaints are addressed promptly;
  • Set up and dissemination of a toll free number to receive complaints 24-7;
  • Effective tracking of complaints and monitoring of complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation;
  • Production of a video message from the CEO of ABM emphasizing zero tolerance for sexual harassment and retaliation;
  • Periodic internal audits centered in central California, to ensure compliance by supervisors and to send a strong message that the company will protect women at isolated worksites;
  • Reporting to the EEOC on progress under the decree, including results of the audit

The consent decree was filed with the court on August 27th and is awaiting court approval.

We commend ABM for the commitment it has shown in instituting these broad sweeping changes, and we hope that supervisors and employees recognize that this is not business as usual at the company.

In closing, while sex discrimination charges filed with the EEOC in fiscal year 2009 make up a steady 30% of our total charges, sex-based charges alleging sexual harassment comprise 13.6% of our total charges. But the statistics don’t tell the full story. We’ve observed that many of the sexual harassment cases that have been reported to us are more violent and physical.  

From a litigation perspective, we have seen a marked increase in the severity of sexual harassment cases in our district.  Within the last three years, we have had an 80% increase in the egregious nature of sexual harassment cases, across all industries and regions of our district. We have seen sexual assaults and rapes in the far reaches of the island of Tinian, to Las Vegas, and right here in California.  

What is consistent is that the allegations involve the most vulnerable communities, oftentimes affecting people limited by language, socio-economic status, and gender.  

In fact, our local statistics reflect this.  Specifically, our Fresno Local Office has seen a dramatic increase - over 127% between FY 2008 and 2009 - of sexual harassment cases and national origin charges, comprising double the national average. As we have seen in the ABM case, the sex harassment allegations involved are very serious, and demand our attention.

We are most concerned with the trend we are seeing in our district and we hope employers take steps to ensure that all workers are protected and treated equally at work.

Here at the EEOC, we have a singular mission: to eradicate discrimination in the workplace.  We hope that anyone suffering from serious abuses will learn from the examples of the people you will hear from today, and take that first step to seek help.

Thank you.  Now I want to segue to Elizabeth Esparza Cervantes in our Fresno Local Office, the senior trial attorney on the case, who will give brief remarks in Spanish and introduce one of the claimants who will speak.