Fighting for Women's Equality

New Case: Shipyard Workers Breaking Through the Boys’ Club

February 19, 2014 | by

For nearly 30 years, Equal Rights Advocates client Janet Aviles has worked in production and maintenance at a Norfolk, Virginia shipyard. One of only 100 women in a workforce of nearly 1,600, Janet has worked hard to keep moving up in a hierarchical organization dominated by outdated ideas about women’s right to work there.

At BAE Systems Ship Repair in Norfolk, the “boys’ club” attitudes start at the top, with its all-male management team, and percolate through the ranks. These attitudes limit opportunities for women like Janet to work and get paid on equal footing with male co-workers, and restrict their ability to advance to higher-paid positions.

Equal Rights Advocates is proud to represent the women of BAE Norfolk in a proposed gender discrimination class action lawsuit, filed with co-counsel The Law Offices of Joshua Friedman, that would open up access to the good work opportunities that are so deserved by the hard-working women of the shipyard. (To read the complaint in Aviles v. BAE Systems, filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, click here.) Workers who have been at the shipyard more than 25 years can recall only three women ever holding supervisory positions in the skilled trades departments of the shipyard, and no woman has ever served as BAE Norfolk president or vice president. Like many of her female co-workers, Janet was forced to file multiple gender discrimination grievances in order to get the pay and promotions she deserved; it took her nearly three decades to get to the top position in her department. Only after women at BAE Systems speak out does change occur. The boys’ club also cultivates an environment where bad attitudes about women flourish, and nobody is held accountable for it. At the shipyard, male workers and supervisors regularly talk about women as “bitches” and “whores,” make vulgar sexual jokes, and comment about how women don’t belong in the yard in front of co-workers, subordinates, and managers. Instead of stopping and correcting the harassment, high level managers and executives have participated in it. A vice president shouted out to a woman to “SHAKE IT!” as she walked by, in front of a crowd of workers, and on another occasion, made a lurid comment about the sex appeal of her blonde ponytail. Another supervisor told a female worker that she looked more like a secretary than a pipefitter. “The whole environment and structure of the BAE shipyard has strongly favored men, and mistreated women, for years,” said ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch. “The women of BAE’s Norfolk shipyard deserve much better, and the time for change has come.” ERA is proud to stand with the women of BAE in their fight to create a safe and fair workplace. Co-counsel Joshua Friedman said he is excited to work with ERA on the case, which he initiated last year, stating: “ERA has been around since the beginning of the women’s rights movement and is a strong advocate for workplace equality.” Stay tuned to ERA’s blog for more updates on Aviles v. BAE Systems, and support our work assisting women in male-dominated industries. 
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