From left, Melissa Barrios, Fresno EEOC director, and Linda Strong hold a press conference Wednesday morning. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
A company operating call centers in Fresno and Clovis has agreed to pay a $3.5 million settlement on a federal lawsuit claiming pervasive sexual harassment occurred at the two sites.
At least 44 former employees of Irvine-based Alorica, Inc. – both women and men – claimed to have been sexually harassed, with some claiming retaliation for refusing sexual advances or for reporting the problems to human resources.
Officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which filed the suit on behalf of the workers against Alorica, said a phone hotline and a spot in the agency’s website had been established to allow any current or former employees who suffered sexual harassment to file claims and possibly a portion of the money.
“The EEOC contends that from 2012 to the present, that women and men were subjected to sexual harassment that took the form of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment perpetrated by supervisors, managers and co-workers” that included female workers being openly propositioned for sex, leered at and touched, said Anna Park, EEOC’s regional attorney speaking via a conference call this morning to reporters in Los Angeles and at the agency’s downtown Fresno office.
“For example, EEOC contends that a manager peered down women’s tops to see their breasts,” Park said, adding that other incidents involved indecent exposure and solicitations for oral sex.
“If they rejected the advances, some women felt they were subjected to scrutiny, written up an terminated. Others felt unsafe and couldn’t tolerate the working conditions. In both instances, women ended up resigning, she added.
It wasn’t just women claiming to have been victimized, said Park, noting that “Female workers talked about sex with male co-workers, making them uncomfortable. In other instances, men were asked [by female co-workers] what positions they liked to have sex in.”
Despite receiving numerous complaints about such incidents, EEOC officials – who work to prevent harassing, discriminatory and retaliatory behavior in businesses – maintain Alorica didn’t to enough to correct the problems or to prevent more harassing behavior at the call centers where they take customer service calls for cell phone owners.
Present during the presentation in Fresno was Linda Strong, 27, of Fresno, who was the first former Alorica employee to contact the EEOC a few days after being fired in June 2015.
She offered reporters a chilling account of her slightly more than a year and a half with the company, saying, she was harassed by her direct supervisor, an associate director, and others.
“He would comment on my breasts, ask me what kind of bra I was wearing, tell other employees he liked my butt and during one-on-one meetings, he would pull me close to him, rub my back up and down and like massage my shoulders and whisper in my ear I needed that.”
Strong said two other team managers also harassed her.
She said she complained to a supervisor and human resources, and she was put on a two-week leave. When she got back, Strong said her desk was moved near where supervisors frequently walked by, stopping to stare or roll their eyes at her.
“The site director of the entire building, he told me he didn’t want to hear anything incriminating about his associate directors, because they performed to him,” said Strong, who is married and a mother.
“Some days I would just cry all day. Other days I would be angry,” she recounted. “I’m still dealing with it to this day.
Another former Alorica employee in Los Angeles gave her account of sexual harassment at the company, while at least two women who also claimed to be victims of workplace abuses sat in the audience amid reporters and EEOC officials.
“The settlement was filed and approved by the [U.S.] District Court judge in the form of a consent decree that resolved the case,” that included the $3.5 million financial settlement for the victims, along with Alorica taking actions to prevent harassment and retaliation in the company — which includes a three-year consent decree to hire a third-party monitor, creating positions for an internal equal employment opportunity consultant and an internal compliance officer — and giving sexual harassment, civility and bystander intervention training to employees.
The company also agreed to revise its anti-discrimination and retaliation polices, said EEOC officials.
Despite the settlement, Tania King, chief of employee experience and chief legal officer for Alorica, which operates 130 customer service centers around the world, said based on internal reviews of the claims made in the federal lawsuit, company officials believe they would have been exonerated of any wrongdoing had the case gone to trial.
She later said that some managers were fired, but when asked if those actions supported the former workers’ claims, King declined to comment.
She added that the company already had taken steps to improve the workplace environments in Fresno and Clovis ahead of the settlement and urged employees who have suffered workplace abuse to report it to their supervisors or human resources staff.
King’s claim of no wrongdoing and that the company had been misrepresented didn’t sit well with Strong, who later said, “We wouldn’t have gone this far, as far as the settlement and everything, if it wasn’t true. I mean, you wouldn’t agree to anything if it wasn’t true, which I guess is what I’m trying to say.”
She added that on a job interview at another business, the person interviewing her noticed she had worked at Alorica and asked whether she had been a victim of sexual harassment there, indicating Alorica had a reputation for such negative behavior.
Strong added a message to others in the workplace: “If you have been sexually harassed, whether it’s just once or ongoing, come forward and complain, because suffering in silence is, like, horrible.”
If you are a current or former employee of Alorica in Fresno or Clovis who believes you have been sexually harassed or of victim of other workplace abuse, call the EEOC at 800-669-4000 or visit the agency’s website at www.eeoc.gov.