Two executives of a woman-owned air quality compliance consultant that held contracts with the Port of Los Angeles filed suit Jan. 20 against the port and city for breach of contract and retaliation after the firm was terminated for reporting sexual harassment and instances of alleged contracting fraud.
Erin Sheehy and Tara Tisopulos, president and vice president, respectively, of Environmental Compliance Solutions Inc., Santa Monica, Calif., say in a complaint filed in state superior court that despite award of “several successive three-year contracts” to the firm to manage environmental impact studies and regulatory compliance, they dealt with “a 1950’s era old boys club environment” and were subjected to misogynistic and sexually explicit comments.
After ECS made official internal complaints about a port manager for his serial verbal abuse and harassment, the port’s director of environmental management reduced the amount of the firm's work and eventually refused to honor its 2019 contract. The suit says the manager was allowed to retire with full benefits and was not disciplined.
The firm was terminated after reporting the hostile work environment as well as issues that included possible fraudulent overcharges by a contractor and nepotism in contract awards, says the complaint. It also names the city Board of Harbor Commissioners, the port’s operation and contracts manager.
“The conduct creates an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment,” the complaint says, outlining a number of incidents, also involving the environmental management director. The conduct they were exposed to was not consensual and created a workplace where Sheehy and Tisopulos claim they were retaliated against for complaining about practices forbidden by law.
According to the complaint, the port environmental management director became, last August, “the subject of a misconduct investigation being conducted by the City of Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.”
in a Jan. 25 email to ENR, Rachel Campbell, the port's media relations manager, confirmed that "as a result of the complaint by plaintiffs, the City of Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office is conducting an investigation in connection with the allegations made by the plaintiffs," adding that "ECS remains a current and active contractor" to the port and that its environmental management director is in that role currently.
The port added that “unlawful and inappropriate workplace behavior will not be tolerated. Should the Port become aware of allegations of inappropriate behavior, an investigation is launched [with] all appropriate steps to review and address the allegations [and] any and all available action necessary pending results of the investigation.”
A spokesman for city Mayor Eric Garcetti declined comment.
The port handles about $300 billion of cargo annually, according to the complaint, had $506 milion in 2019 operating revenue and is the largest U.S. container port.
ECS, which its website says was founded in 1995, received its first three-year contract for on-site environmental management work for the port and its tenants in 2013, with a renewal in 2016 and another approved in 2019, for a total of about $8 million in contracts awarded to the firm.
Current firm revenue was not disclosed. ECS lists on its website state certifications as a women-owned enterprise and a small business, and a number of Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and construction sector firms as clients.
The ECS executives seek unspecified damages caused by lost revenue, benefits and financial stability.