Victory! Favorable Resolution for Black Cape Verdean Women in Discrimination Case Against New Bedford Fishery
Resolution Creates Forward-Looking Workplace Reforms
Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and Justice at Work, attorneys for Paula Fortes, a Black Cape Verdean woman, announced a settlement today to resolve an employment discrimination case alleging years of pervasive sexual harassment and identity-based harassment at a New Bedford fishery. The settlement includes systemic reforms to prevent similar discrimination in the future.
Ms. Fortes was a maintenance worker at a New Bedford fishery for over three years. Throughout her employment, other workers made disparaging comments about her hair texture, referring to her as having “broom hair.” Male workers constantly made comments about her body:
- “I want that ass”
- “One day I will have money to buy that ass”
Ms. Fortes was also forced to clean bathrooms where workers had intentionally left feces on the floor and drawn an offensive sexual depiction of her on the wall.
New Bedford’s fisheries are a primary source of employment for immigrants and people of color. These populations of employees are often the most vulnerable to workplace discrimination, harassment, and exploitation. It takes individuals such as Ms. Fortes to stand up for their rights even when the odds are stacked against them.
The case was filed at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) last year. The settlement announced today does not include any admission of wrongdoing by the New Bedford fishery. However, as part of the agreement, the fishery will implement multiple reforms to its workplace, including:
- Implementing mandatory and ongoing training for all supervisors and managers on implicit bias, sexual harassment, and discrimination.
- Reviewing and revising workplace policies and procedures affecting employees from initial hire to ongoing work conditions to separation.
- Auditing the reporting mechanism (i.e., employee hotline) to ensure efficacy and identify gaps in service.
“I am at peace knowing that my previous employer will implement reforms in the workplace,” said Ms. Fortes. “This is an important step towards ensuring that all female and immigrant workers are safe and free from harassment and discrimination.”
“This is a major victory for women of color, whose workplace concerns are often swept under the rug,” said Mirian Albert, Staff Attorney at LCR. “Ms. Fortes’ victory is a reminder to employers that all workers are entitled to protection against harassment and discrimination, no matter what their immigration status, race, national origin, or sexual orientation.”
“Estamos felices que la compañía fue forzado a responder por la experiencia traumatizante de una trabajadora–una experiencia que otros sufren en silencio. En CCT, estamos para apoyar toda la gente en trabajos mal pagados y peligrosos, sin importar su país de origen, lenguaje, color de piel,” said Adrian Ventura, Director of the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores (Community Worker Center or CCT). (“We are happy that the company was forced to answer for one worker’s traumatizing experience—an experience that others suffer in silence. At CCT, we are here to support all people in low-paid and dangerous jobs, regardless of their country of origin, language, or skin color.”).