Deckhands on the Staten Island Ferry in New York City allegedly used the security camera system to spy on female employees and passengers, according to a lawsuit recently filed by a female former deckhand. Brooklyn resident Jeannette Suarez alleges in her lawsuit that co-workers began harassing her by “leering” at her and making sexually suggestive noises in mid-2010. She further alleges that various male deckhands used the ferry’s security cameras to peek up women’s skirts and down their shirts. The ferry has two kinds of cameras. She states that male employees would use a “360 degree zoom camera” to “mark the women,” and then they would use cameras in fixed positions around the ferry to create a “peepshow.”
Suarez alleges that she reported her co-worker to their employer for inappropriate remarks and behavior in June 2010, citing sexual harassment and discrimination. After filing this report, she says she became subject to further harassment in retaliation for speaking out, to the point that it became a hostile work environment. Her fiancee, Jerry Mascolo, who also worked on the ferry as a deckhand, supported her original complaint. He claims that their employer withheld opportunities for overtime work from him and terminated him without good cause in October 2010. Suarez was terminated without good cause, according to her complaint, in November 2010.
Suarez made a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shortly thereafter for sexual harassment, discrimination, and unlawful retaliation. She filed her lawsuit in a federal district court in Brooklyn a few weeks ago, claiming the same unlawful acts as in her EEOC complaint. She is demanding judgment for lost wages and benefits due to unlawful termination, as well as damages for mental distress, shame, humiliation, and embarrassment.
Federal, state, and local law prohibit employment discrimination based on sex and gender. The types of harassment allegedly endured by Suarez clearly fit the legal definition of unlawful discrimination. Her alleged treatment by one or more co-workers, by subjecting her to inappropriate comments of a sexual nature, created a hostile work environment by singling her out based on her sex. The “peepshow” activities of the employees, if true, also created a hostile work environment for her and other women by targeting women on the ferries for gross invasions of privacy.
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, considering it a form of gender discrimination. The EEOC investigates and sometimes pursues legal action against employers accused of creating or tolerating hostile work environments. In Suarez’s case, her co-workers are accused of fostering the harassing environment. Her employer’s potential liability is therefore not for committing harassment but for failing to protect their employees from harassment.
Her employer also stands accused of retaliating against her after she reported the harassment. Mascolo may also have a retaliation claim. The law requires an employee to first exhaust his or her remedies under the employer’s internal harassment policies, and it takes a dim view of employers who retaliate against employees who make use of those policies.
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 the firm today.
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Sexual Harassment and Settlement Agreements, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 3, 2011