Balfour Beatty sued in sexual harassment case at construction worksite
By Neil Gerrard07 September 2023
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against construction company Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, alleging that a female truck driver on one of its worksites suffered long-term sexual harassment.
In an announcement released yesterday (6 September), the EEOC alleged that Balfour Beatty Infrastructure violated federal law when the truck driver, working on a highways project in Craven County, North Carolina, was subjected to sexual harassment by several male coworkers for over a year.
The suit alleged that one coworker asked the victim to “talk dirty” to him, send pictures of her breasts, and sit on his lap. He also sent her sexually explicit text messages.
When the victim reported the conduct to the foreman, he laughed at her, the EEOC said.
It alleged that the behaviour was allowed to continue, and the coworker’s conduct escalated as he began sending the victim photos of his penis.
The victim also experienced hostile and abusive harassment by several male coworkers because she was female.
The male coworkers called the victim sexually derogatory names on a regular basis, told her to “shut the f*** up you stupid b****”, and told her “This is a man’s world . . . if you can’t handle it then go work for Walmart.”
After the victim complained to a superintendent, she was denied an opportunity for advancement she was expecting, the EEOC charged.
Instead, she was transferred to an undesirable work location while the offending coworkers, and the foreman who failed to stop the abuse, were transferred to the more desirable project.
The EEOC said that such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals from workplace discrimination and harassment. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Eastern Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, Inc, Civil Action No.: 4:23-CV-00144-FL) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.
The EEOC is seek compensation for the victim, including back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.
It is also seeking injunctive relief against the company to end any ongoing discrimination and to prevent such unlawful conduct in the future.
EEOC chair Charlotte A. Burrows said, “Some of the most egregious incidents of harassment and discrimination investigated by the EEOC over the past several years have occurred in the construction industry.
“The prevalence and severity of abuse directed at women in the construction industry is a significant barrier to their ability to get and keep good jobs in construction and further their careers in the industry. The EEOC is committed to advancing equal opportunity in construction by using all its tools, including outreach, education, technical assistance and, where necessary, litigation.”
In May 2023, Burrows issued a report entitled “Building for the Future: Advancing Equal Employment Opportunity in the Construction Industry.” The report found that persistent discrimination, including harassment, in construction creates barriers to building a more inclusive industry at a time when the unprecedented federal investment in infrastructure is spurring new hiring and expanding opportunities. The report offers strategies for more effectively advancing equal employment opportunity in construction.
“Employers in the construction industry must be vigilant in their efforts to protect women from sexual abuse and discrimination in the workplace,” said Melinda C. Dugas, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District.
“When discrimination policies and reporting procedures are illusory because no one is enforcing them, they only serve to undermine the employer’s legitimate efforts to comply with the law.”
A spokesperson for Balfour Beatty said: “We have only just received the complaint and need to review it and investigate the claims made in it. However, we do not tolerate harassment or discrimination in our work places or sites and have a zero tolerance policy relating to such behavior.”