Two female employees of the private water company Veolia North American LLC filed a lawsuit against the company in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, claiming that they were sexually harassed multiple times by the same male supervisor at the company’s water reclamation facility in Arroyo Grande.
According to the lawsuit, filed Feb. 14, both female employees were the subject of harassing comments and aggressive, unwanted sexual advances from the supervisor, who later was in charge of evaluating their performance at work. Despite reporting their complaints to management and human resource officials, the women continued to be harassed. Both alleged victims were employees at the water reclamation plant, which Veolia North operates at the Plains Exploration and Production oil field in Arroyo Grande, the lawsuit stated.
One of the alleged victims claims that the harassment began shortly after she was hired in 2012, and continued through 2016. The lawsuit states that the woman’s direct supervisor would flirt with her and make sexual comments. He also became physical with her, allegedly pressing himself against her. The lawsuit detailed one instance where the same supervisor asked for a ride to the airport, then attempted to sexually assault the female employee.
“Suddenly, he forcefully and aggressively kissed her mouth-to-mouth,” the lawsuit stated. “[The woman] was shocked and felt violated.”
The lawsuit goes on to allege that when she reported the harassment, a human resources official made statements suggesting that she had somehow “led on” her male supervisor.
The woman, a mother of four, was placed on disability leave in November 2016 in order to seek treatment for emotional distress as a result of the harassment, the lawsuit alleged.
The second alleged victim also worked under the same male supervisor, and also reported a pattern of escalating harassment. It included inappropriate sexual comments and advanced to unwanted contact. According to the lawsuit, on one occasion, the male supervisor snuck up behind her and began to “trace his fingers along the imprint of her bra strap,” then proceeded to rub her shoulder without her consent.
Similar to the other female employee, the woman reported the harassment to human resources officials, but the lawsuit claims no action was taken, and the harassment continued.
That employee also had to take leave as a result of the harassment.
According to the lawsuit, the work environment at the facility was largely male-dominated, with the two victims being the only two full-time female employees. The lawsuit stated that it was tempting to refer to the behavior and response as “frat-like,” but added that, in truth, it was much worse.
“It represents the worst of the misogynist, alpha-male stereotype too often associated with a male-dominated work environment,” the lawsuit stated.
As of March 1, Veolia had not filed a response to the lawsuit in court. In a written statement to New Times, a company spokesperson declined to say whether the supervisor in question was still working at the facility, or whether any action had been taken as a result of the allegations.
“Veolia is aware of the lawsuit having been filed,” Veolia spokesperson Denisse Ike wrote. “Veolia does not comment on pending litigation, other than to state that it denies all legal liability.”