Con Edison has quietly settled a huge sexual harassment lawsuit by agreeing to set aside $3.8 million for up to 300 women employees.
The settlement was reached with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of female field workers who say they’ve been subjected to harassment, passed over for promotion or paid less than less qualified male workers.
“This case should send a clear message to employers across New York state: All women — especially those working in male-dominated workplaces — deserve respect and equal treatment,” Schneiderman said.
Cecelia Borcherding, a 33-year-veteran at Con Ed, is one of only two women inspectors out of 40. She says she’s endured harassment for years.
She recalled being handed a form she needed to put in for repairs to her Con Edison truck that someone had filled out already with graphic references to her private parts.
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She says she was passed over repeatedly for promotion and suspended twice by male supervisors for "insubordination.” Both suspensions were later overturned.
"That's what this is — junior high school. Actually it's kindergarten. It's horrible,” the 61-year-old said. “Con Edison would like people to think with their advertisements and awards that this is a wonderful place to work. But it's actually horrible."
Prudence Foster, 49, a veteran construction representative, recalled the time a male worker in a truck deliberately banged into her parked truck.
Working at Con Edison is not as rosy as the company makes it appear, female workers say.
“I have learned to toughen it out just so I can be able to maintain employment," she said. “Our opinions don't matter. If we have a discrepancy, we are labeled angry black women, or just angry women. It's still a little boys club. They'll team up against us. It's a constant fight"
Kawana Howard, 40, is fighting a termination she says was retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint: “I want Con Edison to open their eyes and realize women have rights also. We want to be treated fair.”
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The agreement was signed privately Aug. 4 and letters to more than 300 eligible women workers notifying them of the payouts will go out in the coming days.
All 300 are entitled to a $5,000 payment from a pool of $1.65 million, and Con Edison has set aside more for employees for payments ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 for repeat cases of harassment, denied promotion or retaliation based on gender bias.
The investigation began in 2007 after women workers charged Con-Ed “failed to address widespread harassment of women by male co-workers” and tolerated “a hostile work environment.”
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