Black women working at Con Edison are fighting a shameful power shortage, a new lawsuit charges.
A highly regarded African-American Con Ed worker who was the first woman to become a line constructor — a worker who fixes utility poles — has sued the company, alleging an old boys club has kept her from being promoted.
Monica Harwell, 53, says she’s unsuccessfully applied for over 50 promotions since 2000 despite earning an associate’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in organizational leadership, among other degrees.
“They’ve always said, ‘This is the career path, you got do this.’ I did it!” said Harwell, who lives in Jersey City.
“And I’m getting beat by people with less years’ experience and no degree.”
Harwell is no stranger to adversity.
She started working at Con Ed in 1991 as an entry-level field worker and was the only woman in the department when she was hired. In 1998 she became the first woman to earn a “high voltage” title allowing her to work on overhead electrical lines.
Her male colleagues said she couldn’t climb to the top of towers — and when she did just that, she stopped to paint her fingernails.
“When I go up there, I want them to know it's a woman up there,” Harwell told NPR in a story lauding her achievements.
Climbing the ladder at Con Ed has proved more difficult, Harwell said.
Company spokesman Allan Drury said Con Ed has 14,000 employees, 20% of whom are women. Minorities accounted for 48% of promotions last year.
“Con Edison does not tolerate discrimination in any form in the workplace and is committed to maintaining a workforce that promotes diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity,” Drury said.
Harwell's co-workers bet that she wouldn't make it up the pole her first time climbing. Not only did she get there, but she started painting her fingernails when she reached her destination.
But Harwell says the company’s diversity goals failed her. She meticulously pursued assignments since 2000 that made her qualified for more lucrative positions, papers claim.
In May 2008, Harwell asked a manager when the electric operations unit in Con Ed would offer women manager positions, documents say.
“You’ll never see that happen,” he allegedly replied.
Since 2011 she’s worked as a scheduler in Westchester County — a position with a lower pay scale compared to other jobs of similar rank, the suit says.
Meanwhile, white men with less experience and education get promoted to positions for which she often wasn’t granted an interview, her suit alleges.
“I did everything you asked of me and you still overlook me!” she said.
The stress of applying for so many promotions has worn her down, she said.
“It makes you old, makes you frustrated,” she said.
Harwell seeks damages to be determined at trial, including back pay.
Her attorney Monique Chase said the suit also seeks to “usher in substantive change” at Con Ed.
Last month, Con Ed agreed to pay $3.8 million to female workers who had sued for sexual harassment. Harwell did not receive money from that settlement, her attorneys said.