Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Harassment, Retaliation by New York City Airport Security Contractor

Numerous employment statutes protect workers from employment discrimination in New York City on the basis of various protected categories. These laws’ prohibitions on sex or gender discrimination include sexual harassment in certain forms, including the use of sexual activity as a condition of employment, and patterns of sexually-oriented behavior that create a hostile work environment. These laws also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who assert their legal rights. A lawsuit filed late last year alleges that supervisors at a security company, which was contracted to provide services at JFK International Airport in Queens, engaged in unwelcome and offensive conduct, including allegedly forcing the plaintiff to watch live video feeds of other employees engaging in sexual activity. Powell v. Allied Universal Security Services et al, No. 1:17-cv-06133, complaint (E.D.N.Y., Oct. 20, 2017). Several more employees have reportedly joined the case as plaintiffs in 2018.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender, which includes sexual harassment. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). At the state level, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) contains similar provisions. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute, also provides similar protections, but it is not the only federal law that covers hostile work environment claims. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 specifically addresses racial discrimination in various areas, including employment, and prohibits “impairment” of “the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings…as is enjoyed by white citizens.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

The lead plaintiff in Powell worked for the defendant at JFK Airport for four years, according to her complaint. She alleges that she was given a choice between “hav[ing] sex with male supervisors and get[ting] ahead,” or “refus[ing] and be[ing] relentlessly harassed and retaliated against.” Powell, complaint at 1. She states that she “chose the latter,” id., and therefore faced discrimination based on race and gender, followed by retaliation for reporting the discrimination.

The allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint include many acts that, unfortunately, frequently appear in sexual harassment lawsuits: lewd comments, sexual propositions, and overt demands for sexual activity in exchange for employment benefits. This lawsuit, however, also alleges an apparent pattern of sexual conduct in the workplace, which supervisors and others allegedly watched on closed circuit video feeds. She claims that she was “forced to stand by as her supervisors watched her colleagues have sex in security booths via closed circuit television cameras.” Id. at 2. This practice allegedly included “assign[ing] security guards to certain posts together to see whether they would have sex with each other.” Id. at 10. The plaintiff claims that she was terminated in 2016 in retaliation for reporting these and other alleged acts.

The lawsuit asserts ten causes of action for discrimination, retaliation, and wage and overtime violations. These include claims for intentional discrimination and hostile work environment under § 1981; gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment under the NYCHRL and NYSHRL; and retaliation under all three statutes. The plaintiff is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, back wages, and other relief.

Phillips & Associates’ employment attorneys advocate for New York City employees in claims for unlawful workplace practices like sexual harassment and retaliation. Please contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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