Female Janitors Allege ABM Didn’t Protect Them Against Harassment
ABM Industries Inc., the nation’s largest janitorial company with an estimated 70,000 janitors, faces new allegations that it ignored sexual abuse in the workplace even after it agreed in settlements to change how it handles these types of legal issues. Several times since 2000, the federal government sued the company for failing to prevent workplace sexual violence, and each time ABM agreed to make improvements. In a separate settlement in 2015, the company said it would change the way in which it responded to employee rape allegations.
Three current cases in Fresno, California, indicate female janitors continue to have supervisors that exploit their power and take advantage of the night shift to harass them and new documents show the company still has pervasive problems with sexual violence. According to recent reports to the local police department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the three female janitors say they were sexually harassed while cleaning Citibank branches, the offices of Telemundo and medical clinics. The workers indicate they were told they’d risk deportation or losing their sole means of supporting their families if they spoke up.
ABM responded to the newest litigation by stating the company continues to take such allegations seriously and the men involved in the incidents are no longer employed. Some of the harassment occurred while the company was under a court-ordered agreement with the federal government arising from a lawsuit in California in which it pledged to improve how it handles harassment claims, however.
“This is a pervasive problem that is so big and has been around for so long, there is really no way to say that the company was not aware of the possibility – indeed the probability – that there were women facing this kind of abuse,” said Jennifer Reisch, an attorney with Equal Rights Advocates, representing the women.
The janitors complained to the company first in early 2017, and ABM placed them on paid leave while it investigated. But the company refused to share the outcome of this supposed investigation, and didn’t even tell the women whether the men had been reprimanded. The lack of response caused the employee to file follow up complaints with the EEOC.
One of the women said that she worked the night shift for the company for many years. Regularly, during these shifts, her direct supervisor made obscene comments to her, watched pornography and masturbated in front of her. In 2014, she finally filed a police report after she says the man tried to rape her. However, she told the police she feared deportation and losing her job, so she was unable to move forward with the case. Last spring, she was forced to go back to the police after the same supervisor cornered her in a supply closet. “The suspect then pulled out his penis from his pants and told the victim to give him oral sex,” the report details. “The victim stated no and turned away from him. The suspect then grabbed the victim’s hand and tried to get her to touch his penis.”
She wasn’t the man’s only alleged victim. He has been accused of assaulting another female. In a June 2017 police report, she says that when she was cleaning the kitchen of a Citibank, the supervisor grabbed her and raped her with his finger by placing “a foot between her legs so she couldn’t close them and forced his left hand down her pants.”
After the women reported the attacks, ABM hired an outside investigator to look into their rape claims. “The company’s response was so outrageous, was so appalling, it was something close to infuriating,” Reisch said. “The company, like many companies, still, as its first instinct – and second one – is to close ranks and to try to protect the status quo, and that has to change.”