Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay will pay $850,000 to settle an employee sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.
A federal judge signed off on the settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday.
Six female janitors on the night shift at the Oakland Federal Building between 2010 and 2012 say they were harassed by a direct supervisor at Calidad, the Goodwill affiliate that employs the severely physically or mentally disabled via its federal contracts, like cleaning the federal building. They claimed that then-supervisor Warren Ross engaged in repeated sexually offensive verbal and physical acts—including pressing his genitals against them, openly fondling himself through his clothing and asking about the women's sex lives, such as whether one's partner had "hit that."
Former employee Crystal Edwards was 19-years-old when she worked at Calidad—her first job.
"I enjoyed being able to earn my own money,” said Edwards. “But after my boss put his arms around me, I did not feel safe at work. My complaints were ignored. I'm so glad the EEOC filed this lawsuit to stop the harassment and to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Former employee Phyllis Sloan says she, too, wanted to protect others.
"I just wanted justice," says Sloan, "so that other disabled workers know that they don't have to put up with harassment from their bosses.”
Also featured in the lawsuit are a female manager in whom the women confided and a male manager who later supported their claims. The two managers allege they were unfairly criticized after helping raise the issue internally and with the EEOC.
Lisa Short, a former manager involved in the complaint, says that within weeks of her start date, back in 2012, employees began coming to her to describe their experiences.
"I knew my job could be on the line," says Short, "but I needed to make sure my workers were safe.”
An internal investigation only led to Ross's transfer. (He later quit.) Frustrated with the response, Short eventually resigned after she says she was subjected to unfair treatment and a hostile work environment.
Goodwill East Bay CEO Jim Caponigro joined the company in 2016, six years after the EEOC says an employee first complained to the corporate office. He says employee safety is his highest priority.
"Unfortunately, we didn't do a good job of responding back to our employees and because of that, you know, we are paying for that. And that's good," says Caponigro, "because the EEOC is bringing best practices to us and they're going to make us a better organization based on some of requirements that are in this agreement."
Among those requirements are more frequent trainings, better complaint and investigative procedures, and third-party monitoring of any sexual harassment or retaliation-related complaint.
EEOC trial attorney Siri Thanasombat says the strong injunctive relief over three years, including supervisors being held accountable in their reviews for how they handle any complaints, are remarkable.
"This happened in 2012 and it's taken a few years for this case to get to this point," says Thanasombat. "We're very happy for them, I think they're very excited about the fact that they're getting some justice."