The Shedd Aquarium is at the center of a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination.
The Shedd Aquarium is at the center of a lawsuit over sex discrimination allegations. The suit was filed on behalf of Susan Catherine Edgerton, a resident of North Carolina. According to the federal lawsuit that was filed in Salvatore Prescott Porter & Porter, Edgerton experienced “an unapologetically sexist working environment, in which degrading comments about women were the norm,” while she worked on the aquarium’s Miami-based research vessel. She also alleges she was unfairly fired.
Jennifer Salvatore is the attorney representing Edgerton. When discussing the suit, she said Edgerton was “treated with open hostility based on gender in a number of ways. She found the whole experience challenging and difficult.” Salvatore is a partner at Salvatore Prescott Porter & Porter. She added that “a lot of current gender discrimination work involves circumstances that are subtle and hard to address through the legal system…This was a case where the gender treatment was pretty overt.”
Edgerton joined the aquarium back in April 2018 when she was hired as a hospitality coordinator aboard the Coral Reef II. Some of her duties included food service, housekeeping, and assisting in operation and maintenance. The Coral Reef II is a vessel the aquarium uses “for research in the Bahamas led by its staff scientists, as well as student trips and fundraising by inviting general public members to pay to join some expeditions.”
According to Edgerton’s allegations, male crew members created a hostile work environment by frequently using derogatory terms for women. For example, on the morning of November 2018, Edgerton said she was “sweaty after running and then-First Mate Kip Mors looked at Edgerton’s chest and made an explicit, suggestive remark.” Additionally, she alleges that Captain Zoltan Bobick’s orders “caused her physical harm on at least two occasions.” On one occasion, Bobick ordered her “to jump from the ship’s deck 15 feet down to a concrete dock to aid in mooring.” As a result, she suffered damage to both her ankles and feet, though Bobick told her to “tough it out.” Months later, she was “helping paint the ship with toxic paint and, despite wearing a respirator, was feeling faint from the fumes but was chided for taking a break.”
Eventually, she voiced concerns about the unequal treatment she was receiving and as a result, the captain “began adding to her work duties and adding notes to her personnel file as part of a scheme to get her wrongfully terminated,” according to the lawsuit. On May 30, 2019, she was informed of her termination.
As part of the lawsuit, Edgerton is seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as a jury trial.
When responding to the suit, the aquarium said:
“For decades, Shedd Aquarium has adhered to and acted upon its rigorous policies and procedures related to harassment and discrimination. Moreover, we also perform annual prevention and conduct training for all employees. We do not tolerate conduct inconsistent with these policies and our values, including aboard our research vessel…We also note that Ms. Edgerton filed her claims with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in December 2019. We promptly investigated the matter and responded to the EEOC, and last week the agency terminated its processing of her claims.”