By, Tommy Eden, Attorney
Kerry Woods, a Louisiana ironworker, was harassed and taunted by his superintendent employed by Boh Bros. Construction Co of Louisiana. The superintendent verbally abused and taunted Woods using gestures of a sexual nature and by exposing himself. The harassment took place on the I-10 Twin Span project over Lake Pontchartrain between Slidell and New Orleans. Woods’s supervisor harassed him because he thought he was feminine and did not conform to the supervisor’s gender stereotypes of a typical “rough ironworker.”
After Woods reported the superintendent’s harassment he was transferred to another location, where he was paid less, and then “laid off,” supposedly because there was less work available at the new location. The EEOC sued alleged both sexual harassment and that the company retaliated against Woods for complaining about in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
To make matters worse at the trial, the EEOC established that Boh Brothers had no policy that defined or specifically prohibited sexual harassment. The superintendent testified that before the EEOC lawsuit, he had never received training on sexual harassment.
New Orleans-based Boh Brothers is a major construction contractor that operates in the New Orleans and Gulf South areas employing more than 1,500 people on many projects, including publicly funded post-Katrina rebuilding, repair and expansion projects.
Following a two-and-a-half-day trial ending on March 29, 2011, the federal court jury in EEOC v. Boh Brothers Construction Company awarded Kerry Woods damages for the sexual harassment claim, including $250,000 in punitive damages and $200,000 for emotional distress.
Common Sense Counsel: All workers, male and female, are entitled to earn a living free from harassment based on sex or sex stereotypes. While these male-on-male cases are rare, the jury's verdict signals to all employers the importance of having robust sexual harassment policies and training in place, including in predominantly male workplaces. This case demonstrates the failure of this company to prevent and properly respond to a serious matter for the construction industry: male-on-male sexual harassment by a supervisor and under isolated working conditions. This is the third sexual harassment trial victory for the EEOC this year. The other two were EEOC v. Mid-American Specialties, in which a Memphis jury returned a verdict of $1.5 million, and EEOC v. Paul's Big M, in which a Syracuse jury awarded $1.25 million. This case is a poster child for how to get sued and lose badly. A few proactive steps by the employer and this case never would have occurred; or if it had, the superintendent would have most likely gotten thrown under the I-10 Bridge.
Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Capell & Howard and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-501-1540.