ABM Industries settles sexual harassment suit with female janitorial workers

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Maria Quintero, in front with microphone, and Teresa Sanchez spoke of incidents of sexual harassment while working as janitors for ABM Industries, Inc., at a Los Angeles press conference, Sep. 2, 2010.

Maintenance contractor ABM Industries has agreed to pay a settlement of close to $6 million to 21 Latina janitorial workers in California. The workers had filed a class action lawsuit against the company for what they described as egregious sexual harassment.

The harassment started almost a decade ago. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - or EEOC - sued on the women’s behalf in 2007. Anna Park, the agency’s lead attorney in the case, described the behavior the women endured from 14 male co-workers, one of whom was a registered sex offender.

"Some were groped in and around their vaginal area. Some women were forced to touch erect penises of their co-workers and supervisors," Park said at a news conference announcing the settlement at the EEOC's Los Angeles bureau. "One woman was cleaning a bathroom when a supervisor attempted to assault her by closing the door in the bathroom while she was cleaning it, turned off the lights and tried to grab her legs and buttocks."

The memories were still fresh for Maria Quintero, who worked for ABM Janitorial Services in Fresno. Like many of the women, her primary language is Spanish. She told reporters that her supervisor harassed her in an office and said ugly things she couldn’t repeat. She also remembered seeing a colleague abused, but that was as much as she was able to say without breaking down in tears.

Quintero collapsed behind the lectern, and the formal news conference ended. EEOC staff escorted reporters to another room where more plaintiffs told similar stories… with similar difficulty… and without telling their names. One woman said that when she complained to other supervisors, they never did anything.

"They act like they don’t know anything, but they did know," she said quietly.

The women in the class action lawsuit worked primarily in Fresno, Bakersfield and Visalia. ABM Industries provides janitorial, maintenance, and parking services to office buildings and other facilities in the United States and Canada. In the settlement agreement, the company denies any wrongdoing

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