Fighting for Women's Equality

Jury Awards More Than $800,000 to Former ABM Janitor Who Alleged Rape By Her Supervisor And Retaliation by ABM When She Complained

May 17, 2012 | by
San Francisco, CA, May 17, 2012 — A San Francisco Superior Court jury has awarded Maria Bojorquez $812,001 in damages in a sexual harassment and retaliation suit brought against ABM Industries Incorporated and its subsidiary, ABM Janitorial Services-Northern California.

The suit for sexual harassment, retaliation, and failure to prevent harassment and discrimination arose from the sexual harassment and assault of the plaintiff by her direct supervisor while she worked as a janitor for ABM in the San Francisco Ferry Building in 2004. When she complained to the company, ABM responded by swearing Ms. Bojorquez to silence, transferring her to a shorter-term position, and then terminating her.

Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), a national non-profit law firm dedicated to representing the rights of women and girls at work and at school, and the San Francisco law firm of Talamantes Villegas Carrera, LLP represented Ms. Bojorquez in the suit. The case is Bojorquez v. ABM Industries, Incorporated et. al., Case #CGC-10-495994, San Francisco Superior Court.

“The sexual harassment and assault of immigrant women at work is a national epidemic,” said Monali Sheth, staff attorney at ERA. “This case puts a spotlight on the problem and on companies like ABM which shamefully foster these terrible working conditions. What Ms. Bojorquez went through is outrageous and ERA will not stop its advocacy until the workplace is safe for all women.”

“TVC is extremely proud to have represented such a courageous woman as Ms. Bojorquez, who was willing to step forward and fight for her rights in spite of the serious hardships and obstacles she faced,” stated Virginia Villegas of Talamantes Villegas Carrera, LLP. “This case should put employers who do not take seriously their responsibility to prevent and address sexual harassment on notice that low-wage workers will not be deterred from coming forward and demanding that their rights be respected.”

Like many female janitors employed by ABM, Plaintiff worked alone at night, cleaning isolated office areas to which she was assigned by her foreman. Instead of providing her with a safe, discrimination-free workplace, ABM fostered a sexually hostile work environment in which Ms. Bojorquez’s foreman and direct supervisor was emboldened to sexually harass her on a regular basis. As she testified at trial, during Ms. Bojorquez’s first two months of employment with ABM, she was subjected to a barrage of unwelcome comments, requests for sexual favors, and unwanted touching by the foreman, her direct supervisor. This sexual harassment escalated to the point that on the night of October 4, 2004, he forced Plaintiff to the ground and raped her on the floor of an office she was cleaning.

After Ms. Bojorquez complained to ABM about the harassment and assault, the company swore her and other potential witnesses to secrecy, requiring them to sign a “Confidentiality Agreement” that the EEOC later determined to be unlawful. Instead of removing or disciplining Ms. Bojorquez’s supervisor, ABM retained him. Instead of remedying the sexually hostile work environment to which Plaintiff was subjected, Defendants unlawfully retaliated against Plaintiff by removing her from the worksite and later terminating her employment.

Ms. Bojorquez filed timely charges of discrimination and retaliation in 2005 against ABM with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). DFEH issued a right-to-sue letter on May 31, 2005. On April 23, 2009, the EEOC issued a Determination and found that there was reasonable cause to believe that ABM discriminated against Plaintiff because of her sex, and retaliated against her for complaining about sexual harassment by not recalling her for work.

At least half a dozen sexual harassment lawsuits have been brought against ABM by female janitorial employees within the past several years, including two class action lawsuits brought by the EEOC. One of these class actions, U.S. E.E.O.C. v. ABM Industries, Inc., et al, No. 1:07-cv-01428 LJO JLT, was brought in California in 2007 against the same three defendants named here. As in the present case, the EEOC found evidence that the 21 female employees included in the class were subjected to severe, pervasive sexual harassment at worksites in the Central Valley, up to and including sexual assault. The case settled in 2010 for $5.8 million.

Media Contacts:
Monali Sheth, Staff Attorney, Equal Rights Advocates
msheth@equalrights.org 415-621-0672 x387 (office) 510-290-6544(cell)
Virginia Villegas, Partner, Talamantes Villegas Carrera, LLP
virginia@e-licenciados.com 415-989-8000 x 22 (office) 415-810-8195

About ERA
Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), founded in 1974, is a national civil rights organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls. Through its campaign approach—incorporating public education, legislative advocacy, and litigation—ERA seeks to assist women and girls throughout a life-long continuum: ensuring equality in their educational experience, combating sex discrimination in the workforce, and advocating for workplaces hospitable to working families. To learn more about ERA’s work, visit www.equalrights.org.
About TALAMANTES VILLEGAS CARRERA, LLP
Talamantes Villegas Carrera, LLP is a San Francisco based, plaintiff-side law firm dedicated to representing the rights of immigrant and low-wage workers. Since 1999, we have zealously represented workers and have won significant victories for some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers, including janitorial, farm, domestic, restaurant, and factory workers. TVC regularly collaborates with non-profit civil rights legal organizations throughout the State of California, such as Equal Rights Advocates, by providing resources, litigation support, legal clinic support, and man/woman power. Holding ourselves to the highest standards as lawyers, we work from the principles of honesty, fairness and candor. The attorneys of TVC have integrity and take seriously our obligation to represent our clients to the best of our abilities. To learn more about TVC’s work, visit www.e-licenciados.com.
Equal Rights Advocates
www.equalrights.org
Advice & Counseling Hotline: 1-800-839-4372

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