A recent lawsuit against a Maryland-based company underscores how discrimination has run rampant in the construction industry.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) obtained a default judgment in U.S. District Court in a lawsuit against staffing agency Green JobWorks LLC in Hanover, Md., for allegedly refusing to hire female workers for demolition and laborer positions and for refusing to give female workers certain tasks because of their sex.
The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in employment. This includes refusing to hire or to make assignments based on gender.
"It has been almost 60 years since the passage of Title VII, yet many staffing agencies continue to believe that they can indulge discriminatory customer preferences and engage in stereotype-based selection practices with impunity—and they're wrong," EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said in a statement.
According to the lawsuit, Green JobWorks denied liability for the work that its employees were assigned to perform at job sites given that it was a staffing agency. The company also argued that the EEOC did not have enough evidence proving class-wide discrimination.
In 2022, the company stopped contesting the lawsuit, and the court entered a default judgment against it.
The company was directed to pay a total of $2.6 million in monetary relief to 48 female workers. This includes $665,566 in lost wages with interest and an additional $2,026,698 in punitive damages for the company's reckless indifference to the rights of those workers, per the EEOC.
However, Green JobWorks has no employees and is no longer in operation, according to case filings obtained by SHRM Online. Andrew Scroggins, an attorney for law firm Seyfarth in Chicago, said, "The likelihood of recovering those funds appears low."
Sexual Harassment Is an Issue
In 2021, the Institute for Women's Policy Research released a report showing that more than 4 in 10 women working in construction had seriously considered leaving their jobs mostly due to discrimination, harassment or being held to a different standard than their male counterparts.
According to the report:
- 48 percent of tradeswomen reported that they are held to a different standard than their male co-workers.
- 24 percent reported always or frequently facing sexual harassment.
- 21 percent of women of color reported that they are always or frequently racially harassed.
- 19 percent of LGBTQ respondents said that they always or frequently face harassment based on their sexual orientation.
Denying women jobs because of preconceived notions related to gender, as was alleged in the EEOC's lawsuit against Green JobWorks, is also unlawful, according to Andrew Gordon, an attorney with the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"Employees should be assessed based on individual qualifications, or lack thereof—not on legally protected characteristics," he said.
EEOC Closely Monitoring Bias in Construction
The EEOC held a hearing in March 2022 examining mistreatment of women and people of color in the construction industry and how to expand opportunities for historically marginalized workers in the industry.
EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows noted that "harsh and virulent" discrimination and harassment in construction has occurred, including:
- Displays of nooses.
- Threats and harassment.
- Physical and sexual assaults.
Gordon, who viewed the meeting, noted that the agency made clear that it would be taking steps to address what it considered to be "severe and pervasive" discrimination and harassment in the construction industry.
"Since that March hearing, the EEOC has filed quite a few lawsuits against construction companies throughout the country, aimed at tackling discrimination and harassment that has historically plagued this industry," he said.
In 2022 alone, the agency filed lawsuits against construction companies that subjected:
Scroggins urged companies in the staffing and construction industry to learn from the mistakes that led to lawsuits by the EEOC—particularly in the Green JobWorks case.
"This case highlights the importance of avoiding stereotypes when hiring or assigning work," he said. "Companies in [staffing and construction] industries would be well-advised to read the allegations in the complaint and take steps to ensure that they have policies and procedures in place to prevent similar conduct by their own employees."
Stephen Paskoff, CEO of training company Employment Learning Innovations in Atlanta, said companies must abolish any code or existing language that excludes women. Employers shouldn't just exercise inclusion to avoid lawsuits—they should do it to support their own business' success.
"If we take a look at the last 50 or 60 years, there have been thousands of women in manufacturing production and in heavy labor who've performed extraordinarily, working hard like everybody else to do great jobs," he said. "And they've succeeded time and time again."