Balfour Beatty sued by EEOC for sexual harassment

Editor’s note: This story includes descriptions and references to sexual harassment allegations that could be disturbing to readers.

Dive Brief:

  • The EEOC sued construction giant Balfour Beatty in federal court Wednesday for allegedly allowing men to sexually harass a woman working as a truck driver on a highway project, including one worker texting her explicit photos of himself. 
  • Beginning in October 2020, the truck driver was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment at a highway construction project in Craven County, North Carolina, the suit claims. The coworker who texted her also allegedly asked her to “talk dirty” to him, send him pictures of her breasts and promised to teach her how to drive a bulldozer if she would sit on his lap. 
  • After the truck driver complained to her supervisor about the coworker’s behavior, the supervisor laughed, according to the suit. Another coworker then allegedly called her derogatory names for women, including over the jobsite radio. When she protested to management again, she was transferred to a less desirable assignment, according to the suit, while the alleged perpetrators were promoted to a highly sought-after project. 

Dive Insight:

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, is the latest action from the EEOC against a construction company, with Balfour Beatty among one of the most high-profile firms the agency has filed suit against. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. division of London-based Balfour Beatty said, “We have only just received the complaint and need to review it and investigate the claims made in it. However, we do not tolerate harassment or discrimination in our work places or sites and have a zero-tolerance policy relating to such behavior.” 

The EEOC’s suit claims that it first reached out to Balfour Beatty on April 14 to informally discuss the alleged unlawful employment practices against the truck driver, but determined by June 21 that efforts toward conciliation out of court had failed. 

The suit also alleges that men working at the jobsite told the truck driver “this is a man’s world” and “if you can’t handle it then go work for Walmart.” Further, the complaint claims that a second coworker snapped pictures of the truck driver’s buttocks area between six and eight times while at work. 

The suit claims the sexual harassment at the jobsite was “open, obvious and generally known” to Balfour Beatty. The truck driver would often break down in tears from the ongoing sexual harassment, the suit said, and because of Balfour Beatty’s refusal to take effective action to stop it.

“Some of the most egregious incidents of harassment and discrimination investigated by the EEOC over the past several years have occurred in the construction industry,” said Charlotte Burrows, chair of EEOC, in a news release about the suit. “The prevalence and severity of abuse directed at women in the construction industry is a significant barrier to their ability to get and keep good jobs in construction and further their careers in the industry.”

The suit seeks a permanent injunction against Balfour Beatty from allowing sexual harassment in the workplace. It also seeks compensation for the truck driver for both past and future wages, as well as emotional suffering and humiliation, in amounts to be determined at trial.

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