Walsh Construction Co. agreed to pay a $130,000 settlement to a female laborer who in 2003 reported that she had been sexually harassed by another employee while working at the Millenium Park project in Chicago, federal officials announced.
Under the settlement agreement, Walsh also agreed to post its sexual harassment policy at its worksites in Chicago, where the company is based; provide a copy of the policy to new employees; train employees; and report any future complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. An EEOC official said he was pleased that Walsh will also centralize records of sexual harassment complaints to keep track of them.
In a statement, Walsh General Counsel Peter T. Glimco says the company denies any wrongdoing but wanted to resolve the matter without additional expense. The two employees involved in the complaint were inherited at the time Walsh took over from another contractor on the park project, says Glimco. "Two of those employees were involved in this dispute, with one making a claim against the other," he says. "When Walsh learned of the allegations here, it took prompt and immediate action consistent with its long-standing policy" against sexual harassment.
The details of the case, contained in a judge's ruling last year on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit by Walsh, are messy and unflattering. The complainant, laborer Janice Lenoir, was employed by Walsh only from November to December of 2002. She claims that she was harassed by carpenters' foreman Manuel Lemus, her immediate supervisor. Harassment that started out as talk about their respective sex lives escalated to requests for sexual favors in which Lemus asked Lenoir if she should would "take care of him." In early 2001, Lenoir claims, Lemus walked up behind her while she was seated in the office and rubbing his crotch area on her shoulder; she jumped up and ran away. Not long after Lemus telephoned Lenoir at home, again with crude sexual requests.
In trying to dismiss the case, Walsh sought to prove that Lenoir was not subject to a hostile environment, which is the standard for sexual harassment cases. Later Walsh also implied that Lenoir's complaints were too delayed in time to prove she felt subject to offensive harassment.
In an opinion denying Walsh's motion for summary judgment in federal district court in Chicago, Judge James B. Zagel agreed with the plaintiff. He wrote that a hostile environment did exist and that Lenoir's formal complaint was delayed because she believed she had resolved the matter by complaining to other supervisory employees about Lemus' behavior.