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California janitor awarded $800,000 in sexual harassment claim

A California janitor that worked the night-shift received more than $800,000 because she had to endure continued sexual harassment by a supervisor, according to reports released in late May. The woman filed a sexual harassment suit two years ago in state court, alleging that her supervisor at ABM Industries persisted with unwanted sexual advances for years. He made inappropriate comments, grabbed the woman's body, exposed his genitals and threatened to fire the woman if she did not have oral sex with him. He is also accused of raping the woman in a storage closet.

The firm conducted an internal investigation into the matter, explaining to the woman that no evidence of sexual harassment was present. Her employment was terminated in 2005 and she submitted a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She filed the suit in 2009, according to court documents.

ABM Industries, the nation's largest janitorial firm, has had more than $6 million in settlements and fines levied against it because of similar suits since 2007. More than a half-dozen other cases have been investigated. Additionally, company subsidiaries in Northern California have paid more than $5 million in a class-action suit involving 21 women who complained of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

The California branch of the company has agreed to review its paperwork and policies relating to sexual harassment, though company leaders will not admit fault in the matters. The firm will be required to employ internal investigators that are well versed in sexual harassment law and additional training requirements will be instituted.

Attorneys say that the company has been systematically abusing its employees. The women that are employed by the company are often alone during the late-night hours at work, which makes them vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances. Additionally, many of the women do not speak English or fully understand U.S. employment law, which can prevent them from reporting significant violations.

Source: The Bay Citizen, "Janitor wins $812,000 in sexual harassment suit," Shoshana Walter, May 25, 2012

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