Female Dockworkers Experience Discrimination, Harassment on the New Jersey Waterfront

1170030_46106980_12162011.jpgAmong the deep sea longshoreman at the Port of New York and New Jersey, women only account for ten percent of the workforce. Men have dominated this field for years, and the situation has not much improved. Male dockworkers tend to get longer hours and operate more complex equipment. As a result, female longshoremen make an average of thirty-five percent less than their male co-workers. Women frequently endure harassment on the job, in addition to basic gender discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has even found that male supervisors on the docks still try to trade sexual favors from female workers in exchange for shift assignments and promotions.

The EEOC conducted an investigation into the matter after a female dockworker complained of harassment and retaliation. Deshea Best, a crane operator, alleged that her foreman made unwanted advances and touched her inappropriately at work, and that her employer cut her hours after she filed a complaint. She alleges that the foreman put his hand on her buttocks in June 2008, and that their employer, Ports America, refused to take any action even though the foreman had a known history of such behavior. Best reported the matter to the International Longshoremen’s Association, the union to which she and the foreman both belong. She says the union told her that the matter was the responsibility of her employer, while her employer tried to pass the matter to the union.

Best made a report to the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor (the “Commission”), but says that she is frustrated by their slow response to the matter. The Commission is a joint agency of the states of New York and New Jersey, with authority over matters pertaining to the ports. It was founded in 1953 to fight corruption on the waterfront, of the type depicted in the 1954 film “On the Waterfront.” At the time, longshoremen often fought over jobs and endured extortion and blackmail by corrupt foremen. Today, the Commission still regulates activities at the ports, but its focus now includes issues of discrimination and harassment.

A spokesman for the Commission has stated that it brought administrative charges against the foreman, seeking to revoke his license to work on the docks. He will face an administrative judge in December 2011. The EEOC ruled in Best’s favor in the summer of 2010, finding that Best and other women were subjected to sexual harassment, and that Ports America failed to take sufficient action in response. It authorized Best to file a lawsuit, which she did in a Newark, New Jersey federal court in August 2010.

Her lawsuit alleges unlawful sexual harassment, stating that Ports America “created or allowed a sexually charged work environment to exist.” Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination, prohibited under federal law by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In New York, it is further prohibited by both state law and New York City ordinances. The EEOC, along with state and city agencies, investigates claims of harassment and make determinations as to whether a lawsuit is warranted.

The New York sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent victims of workplace sexual harassment and fight to protect their rights. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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