Fighting for Women's Equality

Historic Win for the Women of BAE Systems

March 14, 2016 | by

Aviles plaintiffsAt Equal Rights Advocates, our clients are everything. We have had the honor and privilege of representing Janet Aviles, Stephanie Jackson, Jamieka Brown, and Kel Sharpe for the past three years in a class action lawsuit against BAE System Norfolk Systems, Inc. On February 10, 2016, their journey for justice ended with a historic settlement that will benefit hundreds of women.

This case challenged gender discrimination and harassment in a highly male-dominated, multi-billion dollar industry that has been the backbone of the economy in the Tidewater region of Virginia for many years. At the Norfolk shipyard, where the plaintiffs have worked for nearly 30 years, men consistently outnumber women 15 to 1. Not a single woman has served in a management position at the shipyard in those 30 years.     

Facing routine workplace sexual harassment and discrimination in promotions, Janet, Stephanie, Jamieka, and Kel stood tall for what they believe in and knew was right. They spoke out fearlessly against injustice, even though they knew it could cost them the jobs they loved and the livelihoods that supported their families.

Last month, a judge approved the settlement of their case. Under the settlement terms, BAE Systems will pay more than $4.6 million, which will benefit nearly two hundred women who have worked at the shipyard. BAE Systems has also agreed to make significant changes to workplace policies, procedures, and training protocols to combat discrimination and harassment. These changes will continue to benefit the many more women – and men – who will work at the shipyard in the future.

This suit and the settlement were historic firsts on many levels.

This was the first Title VII class action ever to be settled or certified in the Norfolk division of the Eastern District of Virginia since the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. It was the first class action to be brought or settled in the Eastern District since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dukes v. Walmart Stores (2011), a decision that imposed stricter standards for class action litigants challenging workplace injustices.  

It was also the first class action to be certified and approved by the Honorable Arenda Wright Allen, an appointee of President Obama who became the first African-American woman federal district judge in the commonwealth of Virginia.

“To hear and see Judge Allen commending these gracious and powerful women, congratulating them in her courtroom on their achievement, was both moving and humbling,” said Legal Director Jennifer Reisch, who worked closely with the women of BAE.

Congratulations to Janet, Stephanie, Jamieka, and Kel. It has been an honor to stand by you.

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