New York construction firm ordered to pay $1.5m for severe sexual harassment against 18 female staff

Eighteen employees of one New York construction firm have been awarded $1.5m compensation for severe sexual harassment, including by supervisors, after a court found the company did little to stop the abuse and even fired those who spoke out about it.

Sexual harassment in the construction industry is pervasive– Robert Bonanza, Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York and Long Island

New York Attorney Attorney General Letitia James found that sexual harassment took place at the company, Trade Off, over at least four years against 18 former employees, mostly women of colour.

Female workers were subjected to sexual harassment by at least seven supervisors, including offers to falsify timesheets in exchange for sex, forcible kissing, and circulating sexual pictures and videos of female workers.

Less senior co-workers were found to have exposed themselves to the victims, masturbated on site, and committed other acts of serious sexual harassment.

Little action was taken against perpetrators and the investigation found that Trade Off instead fired at least 12 employees who spoke out, some within days of making complaints.

At least 16 women were harassed because of Trade Off’s failure to prevent or respond to sexual harassment.

As well as the compensation, Trade Off will create a new sexual harassment policy, employ an external monitor for three years, and report its policies and any future sexual harassment complaints.

On its website, Trade Off states that it provides a home for "minority and immigrant ‘skilled’ workers who had previously been excluded from the construction trade workforce, (who now have) an opportunity to earn a fair wage and utilise their skills."

Tierra Williams, former Trade Off employee, said: "What I and other former employees of Trade Off went through speaks to the often sexist and abusive nature of the construction business.

"No industry should promote behaviour that serves to demean women. I’m hopeful that this settlement puts every company like Trade Off on notice, and inspires women in the workplace to stand up against injustice."

Robert Bonanza, Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York and Long Island’s business manager, said: "We thank the former employees of Trade Off for their courage in coming forward to expose the horrific treatment they experienced while on the job.

"Attorney General James and these brave former employees have sent their message loud and clear: Sexual harassment in the construction industry is pervasive, but the state of New York will always be on the side of the workers."

Image: ©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier

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