Women janitors once again sue ABM for sexual harassment, retaliation

February 13. 2019

FRESNO — Three women janitors in Fresno are suing their former employer, ABM Industries, for severe sexual harassment, retaliation, blacklisting, and other workplace violations. The lawsuit, to be filed Weds. Feb. 13 in Fresno Superior Court, also names two ABM supervisors and Merchants Building Maintenance, another janitorial company.

Four years after “Rape on the Night Shift,” ABM — one of the nation’s oldest and biggest facility services companies — not only has failed to provide sexual harassment protections and training to its employees, but is now also being sued for retaliation and blacklisting. Other lawsuit claims include supervisors who made workers launder cleaning supplies off the clock and on their own dime at home or in public laundromats — a biohazard in addition to a workplace violation, especially since the buildings they cleaned were medical facilities.

This is the second time in 10 years that Equal Rights Advocates is suing ABM in California for sexual harassment-related claims. In 2012, a San Francisco jury awarded ERA client Maria Bojorquez $812,001, finding that she had been sexually assaulted by her supervisor, and that she was retaliated against by ABM when she reported.

This is not just about three women. ABM has been sued time and time again for failing to protect its female employees from sexual violence at work, and continues to show a reckless disregard for their safety.

The EEOC also sued ABM on behalf of 21 women workers in the Bakersfield area, settling in 2010.

The company closed its Fresno office in March 2018, a few months after the three plaintiffs filed EEOC charges for sexual harassment. All workers’ contracts were transferred to another maintenance company, Merchants’ Building Maintenance (MBM). However, the three plaintiffs were labeled “mujeres problematicas” (troublesome women) and blacklisted. They were denied employment with MBM, even though legally, all ABM Fresno janitorial workers were supposed to be hired on by MBM for at least 60 days.

“This is not just about three women. ABM has been sued time and time again for failing to protect its female employees from sexual violence at work, and continues to show a reckless disregard for their safety,” said Jennifer Reisch, Legal Director at Equal Rights Advocates. “But there is strength in numbers. These three women did not know each other before this. They worked in different buildings, under abusive supervisors. Now, they’re uniting to fight back.”

A 2016 California law (AB 1978) requires California janitorial companies to adopt sexual harassment prevention policies and provide training to workers and supervisors. But state agencies are still working to define the training requirements, so employers have until next year to comply.

“During this time of heightened focus on sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace, we must make sure that the voices of all women are heard,” said Charles Trudrung Taylor of co-counsel Lang, Richert & Patch. “The law should protect equally the most powerful and the most vulnerable, including janitorial workers and others who struggle to support their families making minimum wages.”

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