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Goodwill settles sexual harassment lawsuit

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Goodwill Industries of the East Bay Area and an affiliate have agreed to pay $850,000 to eight former and current employees to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Thursday.

According to the suit the EEOC filed in federal court in Oakland against Goodwill and affiliate Calidad Industries, Inc., six female janitors assigned to work the night shift at the federal building in Oakland faced routine sexual harassment by a man who was their direct supervisor.

The plaintiffs in the case included young women with developmental disabilities who were relatively new to the workforce and were employed by Goodwill and Calidad’s janitorial operations under a federal government contract.

The EEOC also charged that two managers were unfairly criticized and disciplined in retaliation for supporting the women’s sexual harassment claims and one manager was forced to resign.

Goodwill East Bay chief executive Jim Caponigro said:

“Employee safety is our highest priority and we’ve worked with the EEOC since this suit was filed in 2012 to develop better practices that make us a better company.”

Caponigro said employees first made allegations against the male supervisor in 2010 and the EEOC filed suit in 2012 because many of those employees were upset about the way Goodwill handled their complaints, which was to transfer the supervisor to another location.

Caponigro, who joined Goodwill East Bay as its chief executive in 2016, said the company has started a hotline run by a third party so that employees who are uncomfortable reporting harassment or other issues to their immediate supervisors can call the hotline.

Former Goodwill employee Crystal Edwards said in a statement:

“I was only 19 years old when I worked at Calidad. It was my first job and I enjoyed being able to earn my own money … But after my boss put his arms around me, I did not feel safe at work and my complaints were ignored. I am 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 said:

“I reported the harassment as soon as it started but nothing changed. So I went to the EEOC and they were able to help me.”

Former manager Lisa Short said:

“Within weeks of my start date, my employees trusted me enough to describe the harassment they faced on the nightshift. I knew my job could be on the line but I needed to make sure my workers were safe.”

The EEOC said Short was concerned when higher management failed to take effective action so she sought help from the Federal Protective Service and ultimately helped the women in filing discrimination complaints with the EEOC.

According to the consent decree signed by U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, Goodwill and Calidad will pay $850,000 to the plaintiffs in the case.

The decree also calls for the employers to revise their equal employment opportunity policies and complaint and investigation procedures, institute supervisor accountability policies concerning discrimination issues, train their workforce and hire a consultant to monitor any responses to future complaints.

In addition, the companies are required to make reports to the EEOC about adhering to the terms of the settlement.

EEOC San Francisco District Director William Tamayo said:

“The #MeToo movement illustrates that sexual harassment impacts people across industries, from white collar to blue collar work, across class, race, age, gender and abilities …  In this case, there were many factors that contributed to the vulnerability of these janitors: all were African-American and many were young females new to the workplace who had disabilities and were working the isolated night shift.”

Caponigro said Calidad Industries is a nonprofit affiliate created in 1989 by Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay to provide employment and life skills training to people living with medically-certified physical, mental or psychological impairments.

Caponigro said Calidad focuses on providing its employees living with severe and long-term disabilities paid on-the-job skills training and stable employment.

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