Ironworker Abused on I-10 Project, Federal Agency Charged
NEW ORLEANS – A federal jury has awarded a former employee of Boh Bros. Construction Co., L.L.C. $451,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
Following a two-and-a-half-day trial, the jury awarded Kerry Woods damages for the sexual harassment claim against the major construction firm, including $250,000 in punitive damages and $200,000 for emotional distress.
The EEOC’s lawsuit charged that a superintendent harassed and taunted Woods, who worked for the company as an ironworker, by engaging in verbal abuse and taunting gestures of a sexual nature, and by exposing himself. The harassment took place on the I-10 Twin Span project over Lake Pontchartrain between Slidell and New Orleans, La. The EEOC presented evidence at trial that Woods’s supervisor harassed him because he thought he was feminine and did not conform to the supervisor’s gender stereotypes of a typical “rough ironworker.”
The EEOC’s lawsuit further claimed that the company retaliated against Woods after he reported the superintendent’s harassment. Woods was transferred to another location, where he was paid less, and then “laid off,” supposedly because there was less work available at the new location.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (EEOC v. Boh Brothers Construction Company, LLC (Civil Action No. 09-6460) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“All workers, male and female, are entitled to earn a living free from harassment based on sex or sex stereotypes,” said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez. “The jury's verdict signals to employers the importance of having robust sexual harassment policies and training in place, including in predominantly male workplaces.”
The EEOC established that Boh Brothers had no policy that defined or specifically prohibited sexual harassment. The superintendent testified that before this lawsuit, he had never received training on sexual harassment.
“The jury’s verdict in this case vindicates the public interest and will benefit Boh Brothers’ employees,” said Jim Sacher, the EEOC’s regional attorney for the Houston District Office, which oversees all litigation in Louisiana. “This case demonstrates the failure of this company to prevent and properly respond to a serious matter for the construction industry: male-on-male sexual harassment by a supervisor and under isolated working conditions.”
Woods said of the verdict, “I am so grateful that the EEOC worked so hard for me, and that the jury paid so much attention to the evidence. I knew it wasn’t right that the company should be able to treat people this way. No one should have to put up with that kind of abuse day after day.” Woods testified during trial that he had pursued this case for so many years to see justice done.
This case is the third sexual harassment trial victory for the EEOC this year. The other two were EEOC v. Mid-American Specialties, in which a Memphis jury returned a verdict of $1.5 million, and EEOC v. Paul's Big M, in which a Syracuse jury awarded $1.25 million.
New Orleans-based Boh Brothers is a major construction contractor that operates in the New Orleans and Gulf South areas. According to company information, Boh Brothers employs more than 1,500 people on many projects, including publicly funded post-Katrina rebuilding, repair and expansion projects.
The EEOC was represented by trial attorneys Gregory T. Juge and Tanya L. Goldman.
The EEOC enforces federal law prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.