Fighting for Women's Equality

Our Impact: Equal Opportunity for Women in Male-Dominated Fields

January 2, 2019 | by

An update on our gold miner client in a gender discrimination lawsuit

Justice is sometimes a long time coming, but in the case of our Alaskan gold miner client, Hanna Hurst, it’s coming soon.

Hanna has successfully intervened in a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against her former employer, Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., meaning she is now officially a party in the EEOC’s lawsuit. While the EEOC represents the interest of the United States government in the suit, by intervening on Hanna’s behalf, ERA will be able to protect Hanna’s best interests.

“Sexual harassment rarely occurs in isolation from other forms of discrimination.” – ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch

With ERA’s help, Hanna filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2014, saying her employer discriminated against her based on her sex, fostered a severely hostile work environment for women workers, and retaliated against her for reporting the unfair treatment. Four years later, after its own investigation, the EEOC also has filed a lawsuit against Sumitomo for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Gold mining is still a heavily male-dominated field. When Hanna first came to ERA seeking legal help in 2013, she was one of only two women working underground at the mine in a company of more than 300 people. The discriminatory and hostile working conditions she endured for over 7 years included frequent sexually vulgar commentary and visual displays (fliers and posters) at work, and supervisors who participated in and encouraged the vulgar harassment; retaliation for reporting to HR, including threats to “watch [her] back”; frequent disparaging comments about women, including direct comments from her supervisor that women were only capable of performing low-level tasks; and years of being denied equal opportunity for advancement, including a supervisor who continually blocked her path to training that would enable promotion, despite offering the same training and promotion opportunities to male coworkers who were less qualified and had been working at the mine for fewer years.

Hanna was eventually forced to quit when the harassment reached dangerous new levels: Coworkers began to deliberately interfere with her communications while she was working underground, threatening not only her safety, but the safety of others in the mine. She decided she’d had enough.

“Sexual harassment rarely occurs in isolation from other forms of discrimination,” said ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch, who has been working on Hanna’s case since 2013. “Like Hanna, many women who face hostile work environments are denied equal opportunity in other ways as well. Missed opportunities to advance could have long-term effects on women’s career and represent thousands of dollars in lost income.”

ERA’s legal team and co-counsel Nicole Cusack (Cusack Law LLC) of Anchorage, Alaska, will protect and defend Hanna’s best interests, not just in terms of compensation and holding her employer accountable, but also non-monetary relief to ensure that anyone working at the mine does not face the same unlawful conditions and practices in the future.

“We look forward to working with our courageous client Hanna, not only to seek justice on her behalf, but to bring about lasting change that will expand access for women to high-paying jobs in other male-dominated fields,” Reisch said.

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