In an extremely troubling case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently filed suit against Goodwill Industries of the East Bay Area and its affiliate, Calidad Industries, and a supervisor for their janitorial services contractor. In its complaint, the EEOC claims the supervisor made a habit of sexually harassing female janitorial staff, falsifying their time records, and retaliating when others stepped forward to defend the women. Goodwill/Calidad allowed this to go on for years.
To make matters worse, these women were especially vulnerable. They were hired through program providing jobs for people with disabilities on a federal contract to clean the Oakland Federal Building.
The allegations are sickening. According to the EEOC, at least five women with disabilities complained that the supervisor’s sexual harassment was unrelenting. It was so common, in fact, that he had earned the nickname “Mr. Bojangles.”
He leered at the women and propositioned them sexually. He touched them inappropriately and probed them with inappropriate questions about their sex lives. He groped his genitals in front of the woman and other members of the staff.
Additionally, the supervisor was to complete a time study that would base the workers’ pay increases on actual performance data, but instead he falsified those records.
Furthermore, two managers stepped forward in defense of these vulnerable workers but were unfairly criticized and disciplined, according to the EEOC. One was obliged to quit his job.
Frontline: Sexual harassment of night-shift janitors pervasive when companies ignore it
The director of the EEOC’s San Francisco district pointed to a recent episode of the PBS investigative journalism show “Frontline.” The episode, “Rape on the Night Shift,” dealt specifically with how women working night shifts at janitorial services are at serious risk of sexual harassment and rape on the job.
The isolation of the night shift unfortunately provides ample opportunity for harassment. Moreover, night shift janitorial workers are typically people with minimal economic power, such as immigrants, women and people with disabilities.
It is simply unacceptable that “a program designed to assist workers with severe disabilities to secure a foothold in the workplace instead permitted a supervisor to exploit his authority over workers made more vulnerable by their disabilities and the isolation of working the night shift,” as an EEOC spokesperson said.
After it was unable to resolve the allegations through its conciliation process, the agency filed suit in federal court in mid-December. It seeks an injunction against Goodwill/Calidad to prevent any further damage from its “years of inaction,” replacement of any wages the victims lost out on, and punitive damages.