NEW YORK — Eighteen employees will receive $1.5 million as part of the state’s first sexual harassment settlement in the construction industry, New York’s attorney general said Monday.
State Attorney General Letitia James’s office discovered female employees — particularly women of color — endured severe sexual harassment at Trade Off LLC, also known as Trade Off Plus, which took place over four years.
Based on Long Island, Trade Off Construction Services did nothing to help employees when they complained about various sexual, physical and verbal assault, James said Monday, adding every employee has the right to report harassment or misconduct. The attorney general’s office started its investigation into Trade Off, a company that provides non-union, general labor, in October 2018.
“These practices shall not be tolerated in New York,” James said Monday during a press briefing in Manhattan. “Trade Off has maintained a toxic working environment where employees were routinely mistreated and ignored. After being made aware of these blatant violations, my office worked tirelessly with many other survivors to get the justice they deserved.”
At least 16 women suffered harassment because of Trade Off’s failure to prevent or adequately respond to sexual harassment reports at its work sites, James said following witness interviews and reviewing hours of documentary evidence. The company fired at least a dozen female employees after they filed harassment complaints against managers or co-workers.
Trade Off managers demanded sexual acts for pay and overtime opportunities from several female employees, who were regularly physically and verbally harassed. The attorney general’s office reported managers and other workers sent female co-workers explicit photos and videos on several occasions. Managers failed to take action in response to complaints and repeatedly protected harassers from punishment, James said.
Former Trade Off employees Jaleesa McCrimmon and Tierra Williams recounted their experiences at Trade Off after James’s announcement. McCrimmon took the position at Trade Off because she was paid a higher salary than Walmart.
McCrimmon was sexually assaulted by a co-worker at a work site and endured continuous verbal and sexual harassment on the job.
“This is the one thing in life you think would never happen,” she said. “I quickly found out things are different for females in this industry. I didn’t realize how much I had to protect myself from prying eyes and discouraging words. ... They made me feel I was not cut out for this industry and I should be grateful for what I have. You have to expect the unexpected, but these situations should not happen to anyone. Women deserve much more.”
Women working in the construction industry are assaulted daily, McCrimmon said.
“I was not going to be silent about what happened to me,” she said. “I needed to speak up and take a stand. Enough is enough. Women in this industry should be treated equally and as members of the construction family, because they are mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. Men and women in this industry should take a stand.”
Williams was followed and humiliated at various job sites, she recalled.
“Everyday, I worked late hours and risked being at work at night with some of these men,” Williams said. “Although I was not harassed by all of them, even being harassed by one makes you look at all of them the same. It took me months to really tell my story.”
Both workers started at Trade Off making about $15 per hour without benefits.
Williams encouraged women in construction experiencing sexual harassment at work to report it, but to quit if managers do nothing or conditions do not improve.
“To have mental peace is better than anything,” she said. “It’s a major relief to let them know this is not a game. If you’re not playing fair, we don’t want to play anymore. I’m hoping this opens the door for many other women just to come forth.”
Monday’s agreement marks the first sexual harassment agreement in the construction industry with the state attorney general’s office. The construction industry has a purported history of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in its workforce.
“This will be our first, but this will not be our last,” James said. “Let this be a lesson to construction companies that think they can take advantage of staff. Sexual harassment in any form in the workplace will not be tolerated.”
The agreement also establishes a fund for other workers who experienced sexual harassment at the company.
Trade Off agreed to employ an outside monitor for three years and will create a new, more complete sexual harassment policy, which the attorney general will review. The agreement mandates the company regularly report implementation of policies and investigation of future sexual harassment complaints to the attorney general’s office.
The matter was initially reported to the attorney general’s office by the Mason Tenders District Council/Laborers Local 79.
This case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Michael O’Keefe Cowles and Jessica Agarwal, Labor Bureau Civil Enforcement Section Chief Ming-Qi Chu, Deputy Bureau Chief Julie Ulmet and Bureau Chief Karen Cacace. The Labor Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.