Cape Verdean Woman Subjected to Sexual Harassment at Large Fishery in New Bedford

Employment, Racial Justice

Pervasive Hostile Work Environment at Large Fishery in New Bedford, MA

Female Worker Subjected to Sexual Harassment and Identity-Based Harassment at Eastern Fisheries

In a classic David versus Goliath scenario, a Black immigrant woman challenges one of New Bedford’s largest seafood processors, Eastern Fisheries, after enduring years of pervasive sexual harassment and identity-based harassment in the workplace. New Bedford’s fisheries are a substantial source of employment for communities of color and workers in low-paying jobs, yet the industry has largely failed to protect these workers.

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and Justice at Work join forces on this matter filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The amended charge details how Eastern Fisheries’ leadership allowed Ms. Paula Fortes, a heterosexual Cape Verdean woman, to be subjected to persistent sexual and racial harassment and offensive and inappropriate comments. 

Among the numerous incidents, Ms. Fortes alleges:

  • Disparaging comments about her hair texture, including “broom hair.”
  • Repeated comments about her racial background, including “you don’t have dark skin like Cape Verdeans.”
  • Male workers making constant comments about her body and sexual advances, including “I want that ass” and “one day I will have money to buy that ass.”
  • Insults by both male and female workers about her perceived sexual orientation.
  • Having to clean bathrooms where workers intentionally left feces on the floor and drew offensive depiction of her on the wall.  

Despite raising complaints, the employers, Eastern Fisheries, Inc., and BJ’s Service Co., failed to meaningfully address or remedy her circumstances. 

“I have worked with these companies for years and raised concerns about the treatment I was receiving due to my identity. Yet little was done to address the widespread harassment,” said Ms. Fortes. “This experience was scarring and continues to impact my life to this day. I demand justice for myself and want changes to be made for the sake of all workers after me.”

“The systematic dismissal of workers in low-wage jobs, particularly women of color and immigrant women, when experiencing any form of harassment is shameful and illegal. Employers who try to evade their responsibilities to protect workers from discrimination and harassment do so at their peril,” said Mirian Albert, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “Employers need to make a meaningful commitment to listen and protect all their workers.” 

Adrian Ventura, Director of the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores (Community Worker Center or “CCT”), where Ms. Fortes found support and access to demand her rights, adds: “what happened here is the responsibility of the agency and company for not taking these types of abuses seriously enough. A business like Eastern Fisheries needs to become an example for the seafood processing industry and beyond. We invite workers of any race, gender or sexual orientation to join us at CCT to demand dignity at work.”

The complaint is available here: