Big janitorial service settles harassment suit

LOS ANGELES The lawsuit involved alleged harassments in the Fresno and Bakersfield areas, but ABM has a big presence in California, including in the Southland.

The feds say women working for ABM were groped, fondled, were propositioned and in one case raped. When the women complained, the /*Equal Employment Opportunity Commission*/ (EEOC) says they were fired.

ABM is one of the country's largest janitorial companies. Its website boasts 100 years of service. But Thursday morning the feds came down hard on ABM, accusing the company of harboring a deeply entrenched atmosphere of sexual harassment in central California.

"The most egregious conduct alleged includes some supervisors and co-workers exposing themselves to the women; some of the women's breast were grabbed, and grabbed between their legs," said EEOC Attorney Anna Park.

The EEOC announced a $5.8 million settlement to be paid by ABM involving 21 women working as janitors. The suit, filed in 2007, cites sexual assault, even rape, all at the hands of co-workers and ABM supervisors.

"I was working, cleaning a restroom, when the supervisor entered the restroom, closed the door, turned off the lights and when I tried to get out, he touched my buttocks," said one victim, Teresa Sanchez, through an interpreter.

During the news conference, a momentary scare: One of the women in the lawsuit passed out just moments after speaking. She eventually was walked out of the room. Federal officials attributed it to the stress many of the victims are under.

In a written statement ABM said: "While the consent decree explicitly denies wrongdoing by our company, we are pleased to resolve this matter in a manner consistent with our commitment to leading policies and practices. For many years, the company has had strong policies and practices against harassment and discrimination."

EEOC attorneys say no criminal charges have come out of the case but they cite a big jump in sexual harassment cases recently, many employees, they posit, afraid to resist for fear of losing their jobs.

"In this tough economy, women will have to stay in positions where sexual harassment is occurring and try and put up with it," said victims' attorney Stan Mallison.

The EEOC says the 21 women will get various-sized cuts of the $5.8 million, depending on the severity of their cases. Ironically, an EEOC attorney said that ABM has the contract to clean the federal building that houses the EEOC offices.

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