Company Forced Sexually Hostile Environment on Women, Including Coaxing Them Into Sham Marriages, Federal Agency Charged
DALLAS – Courtesy Building Services, Inc., a janitorial and construction service which has offices in Dallas and Fort Worth, has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. Under a consent decree, the company will pay a former employee $27,500 in damages and attorney fees, and agrees to monitoring by the EEOC to ensure compliance with the law for a period of seven years.
The EEOC’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division (3:09-CV-0911-D), charged that the company subjected female employees to a sexually hostile work environment.
Specifically, according to the EEOC, former operations manager Melissa Gaona and other women were forced to work in a “good old boy” atmosphere where comments about women’s bodies and references to the strip club across the street were a constant occurrence. Male management personnel frequently commented on how women, including employees, looked, suggesting that Gaona enhance her breasts with implants. A male sales representative frequently used the word “whore” in referencing women. According to Gaona, one of the sales rep’s vulgar refrains was, “As long as you have t--s, you'll have a job.” She was also subjected to unwanted touchings. After suit was filed, the company posted a memo on “Rules,” which asked employees not to act “so loud or dirty.”
Further, the EEOC said that Courtesy pressured Melissa Gaona and other women to enter into fraudulent marriages with foreign nationals whom they did not know to help them gain U.S. citizenship.
“I wanted to get ahead, but my boss told me I wasn’t going to amount to anything if I didn’t try one of these marriages,” said Gaona. “I felt dirty the whole time that I worked there. Changing that situation for other women that might work there was worth fighting for.”
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to monetary relief, the company is enjoined from requiring or suggesting that employees marry strangers for citizenship schemes in the future. The company will inform the EEOC of any complaints of sexual harassment, including pressure to enter into sham marriages, for the decree’s entire seven-year term. The company will also revise its sexual harassment policy and procedures to ensure that employee complaints are addressed, and provide avenues for reporting violations and conduct annual training on the laws against sexual harassment in the workplace and the proper procedure for investigating complaints. Courtesy will also post a notice to employees on this consent decree that details the reporting procedures.
“Pressuring an employee toward entering into a marriage that she does not seek or want, with veiled threats of the consequences is, in and of itself, a form of sexual harassment,” said EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Toby Wosk Costas. “Businesses cannot use their roster of female employees as a source of sham marriage prospects for foreigners hoping for citizenship. When this scenario occurs, the EEOC will act to ensure compliance with the law.”
Regional Attorney Robert Canino of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office added, “When an employer encourages unwanted relationships or liaisons between their female employees and customers, clients, or other third parties, Title VII’s protections are going to come into the picture. The sexually offensive conduct of using an altar to alter working conditions is clearly unlawful.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws that prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.