New York Utilities Company Settles Joint Federal and State Sexual Harassment Investigation for $3.8 Million, While Some Complainants Continue with Lawsuit

By Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsConsolidated Edison of New York (“Con Edison”) agreed to settle claims brought by state and federal investigators regarding allegations of widespread sexual harassment and sex discrimination brought by female employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the New York Attorney General (NYAG) reportedly began investigating the company, which provides electric and gas services to large portions of New York City, in 2007. Both agencies announced the settlement agreement in early September 2015, stating that the company has agreed to set aside as much as $3.8 million for up to 300 affected employees. However, two women, who reported their claims to the EEOC in 2009, filed suit against the company in mid-November, stating that they are not satisfied with the negotiation process or the settlement.

According to the EEOC’s announcement of the settlement, the complainants worked in “traditionally male jobs” related to public electrical service, including “work[ing] with men in the field in manholes, power stations and other positions involving physically strenuous activities.” The complainants alleged that they were routinely subjected to sexual taunts and remarks while on the job, that the company’s management was aware of this pattern of behavior, and that it failed to take meaningful action to remedy the situation.

In addition to allegations of ongoing sexual harassment and hostile work environment, the complainants alleged that they were subjected to other forms of sex discrimination as well. According to the EEOC, they claimed that, in comparison to their male co-workers, they were “denied, delayed, and given subpar on-the-job training,” separated by male co-workers in “group work settings,” denied access to classes required for promotion within the company, provided with inadequate safety gear, denied separate restroom and changing facilities, evaluated more harshly for comparable conduct, and subjected to excess disciplinary actions.

The investigation focused on possible violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and other factors. Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination in New York and most—perhaps all— other jurisdictions in the United States. The EEOC and NYAG eventually identified a class of employees with substantially similar complaints, who worked for the company in “field positions between 2006 and 2014.” The class may comprise as many as 300 women.

Under the settlement agreement, the company will make up to $3.8 million available for disbursement to eligible class members. Details of settlement disbursements like this are usually not made available to the public for privacy reasons, but media reports suggests that most class members will receive about $5,000. Individual disbursements could be as high as $150,000 for the most serious claims.

A lawsuit filed in November by two presumed class members seeks damages beyond the amount available from the settlement. Guy, et al. v. Con. Edison, et al., No. 1:15-cv-09044, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Nov. 17, 2015). The plaintiffs are asserting claims under Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law for sexual harassment and sex discrimination. They state in their complaint that the EEOC found probable cause in favor of their claims in November 2011, and it issued them a right-to-sue letter in August 2015. They are seeking $20 million in damages.

The New York City gender discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of employees, former employees, and job applicants who have been subjected to sexual harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful employment practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment Lawsuits, Investigations Target State of New York, State Legislators, and Legislative Staffers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 10, 2015

Talent Agent Responds to Sexual Harassment Allegation with Counterclaims of Defamation, Blackmail, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 14, 2015

EEOC Files Suit Against Sandwich Shop Franchise for Alleged Sexual Harassment of Job Applicants, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 23, 2015

Photo credit: By Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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