$3.8 Million Settlement in Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Law Suit Against Con Edison

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. will pay $3.8 million and furnish other relief to resolve charges by a class of women workers that Con Edison subjected them to sexual harassment and/or various forms of sex discrimination.

The joint settlement agreement between EEOC, the attorney general's office of New York and Con Edison resolves allegations of ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination against women in field positions.  The agreement requires Con Edison to reserve up to $3.8 million to be distributed among eligible settlement group members - as many as 300 blue-collar women workers employed in field positions between 2006 and 2014 - through a claims process to be administered by EEOC and the attorney general's office.

Con Edison provides electric, gas, and steam service to approximately 3.4 million customers in New York City and Westchester County.  Both EEOC and Attorney General Schneiderman's Civil Rights Bureau launched an investigation into complaints made by women working in field positions at Con Edison about ongoing sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

The women workers alleged that they faced widespread harassment by male co-workers and a hostile work environment based on gender and that Con Edison had failed to address this discrimination. EEOC also received complaints from women that they had been delayed or denied promotions from the entry-level general utility worker position to various next-level positions because of gender.

The impacted women worked with men in the field in manholes, power stations and other positions involving physically strenuous activities and maintaining the public's access to electricity. While working in such traditionally male jobs, the women alleged that they were:

  • denied, delayed, and given subpar on-the-job training as compared to their male peers;
  • assigned menial, "make-work" tasks and isolated by male co-workers in group work settings;
  • refused or stonewalled when seeking admission to classes necessary for promotions;
  • not provided tools or safety gear in situations where male co-workers were supplied both;
  • denied adequate sanitary and private restroom, shower, and changing facilities;
  • subjected to disparate and excessive discipline as compared to male co-workers who engaged in comparable conduct;
  • given less positive performance evaluations than their male counterparts for doing comparable work; and
  • denied overtime assignments despite eligibility under collective bargaining agreements.

The women further alleged that Con Edison failed to take effective action to improve or prevent such discriminatory working conditions and failed to meaningfully enforce its internal equal employment opportunity policies concerning gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment and non-retaliation.  Indeed, the women in field positions stated that they faced retaliation when they complained to supervisors or to Con Edison's Office of Diversity & Inclusion about their work conditions.

The EEOC investigation emanated from charges filed by seven former and current Con Edison employees who had worked in field positions during their time with the company. These women include Sharron Sellick, Andrea McSwain, Kecia McCowen and Monica Harwell.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, in addition to providing monetary relief to eligible settlement class members, Con Edison will:

  • retain an independent consultant to evaluate Con Edison's compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement;
  • retain an independent equal employment opportunity specialist to develop and conduct employee training;
  • institute improved policies and protocols concerning the investigation of discrimination and harassment complaints; and
  • provide training to field supervisors on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with an emphasis on illegal sex discrimination and sex harassment.

The conduct at issue in the investigation concerned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, including situations in which a supervisor or co-worker creates a hostile work environment by, for example, making a string of sexual comments at work, and in which supervisors deny women equal employment opportunity and treat women less favorably than men. This case concerned both types of discrimination, sometimes occurring in tandem.

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