• Archives

  • Janitorial Services Giant Forced To Clean Up Its Policies

    Maria Bojorquez came to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico in 1987 in search of a better life.  After living in Los Angeles, California for a few years and working as a housekeeper at a hotel, she moved her family up north, to the Bay Area; first to San Francisco, and later to Oakland, where she worked for a janitorial company.

    ABM Industries, which is the nation’s largest provider of janitorial services for small and large businesses, has a California subsidiary, and Bojorquez was working for it in 2004 when she began experiencing ongoing sexual harassment by one of her supervisors.  Starting in August of that year, Bojorquez claimed that the supervisor often grabbed her arms and breasts, made suggestive comments, threatened to fire her unless she performed oral sex, and exposed himself to her at work.

    One night in October 2004, while Bojorquez was working alone on the second floor of the San Francisco Ferry Building, her supervisor came into the room.  As Bojorquez bent over to pick up a few pieces of paper that were on the floor, the supervisor pushed her to the ground and forced himself on her.  He stopped after receiving a call on his radio from the security office below, and he was still pulling up and adjusting his pants as he walked out of the room.  Having raped her, he told Bojorquez “See, that didn’t cost you anything” in Spanish as he was leaving.

    Bojorquez reported the incident to another supervisor, who told her not to talk to anyone about the rape, including the police, and asked her to sign a confidentiality agreement.  She was reassigned to another department where she would be supervised by a female manager.

    One month later, in November, Bojorquez was informed by ABM that the company had concluded its investigation and found “no witnesses, nor any other type of evidence to support [her] complaint.”  In February 2005, she was told ABM no longer “had work for her,” and was terminated.

    Where once Maria Bojorquez was an outgoing person who would take her kids on surprise trips to the beach, she increasingly turned inward, not saying very much for days at a time, and would lock herself in her room and cry softly.  Her children, who Bojorquez did not tell, could not understand what caused this change and struggled to identify the source of her pain.  They only learned the upsetting truth when she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against ABM two years ago.

    Bojorquez had actually filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2005, and based on the evidence their investigation uncovered, she sued ABM for sexual harassment in 2010.  Her lawyer, Monali Sheth, from the San Francisco employee advocacy organization Equal Rights Advocates, described the grim situation many women like Maria Bojorquez face: “These women are working alone late at night. They’re very vulnerable, they need to provide for their families, don’t speak English, so they’re reluctant to come forward.”

    In fact, the situation is particularly treacherous for female employees of ABM.  According to the EEOC, there have been hundreds of sexual harassment complaints against ABM across the country.  ABM has been sued several times in the last five years by women claiming they have been harassed at work, forcing the company to pay more than $6 million dollars to those plaintiffs.  The EEOC sued ABM in 2010 on behalf of 21 plaintiffs who claimed they had been harassed, and on one occasion, sexually assaulted, by ABM employees at worksites throughout California’s Central Valley.  That litigation resulted in a $5.8 million settlement in which ABM denied any fault, but agreed to overhaul its sexual harassment policies.  To ensure ABM follows through on its promises, a federal auditor has been assigned to the company and will monitor its California subsidiary through 2013.

    Although the EEOC has fielded complaints from employees working for other ABM subsidiaries, the terms of the settlement apply only to the California division of the company.

    Maria Bojorquez was awarded $812,001 by a San Francisco Superior Court jury last week.  It may be unsatisfying relief, and although no monetary award could ever fully compensate Bojorquez for the suffering she has endured, she has come to realize the important lesson the experience has taught her:  “You don’t need to stay silent.  You should try to find help as soon as possible.”

    ABM is considering an appeal.

    If you are a victim of sexual harassment, or have been accused of sexual harassment, you should seek the advice of a sexual harassment lawyer in Los Angeles right away.  An experienced sexual harassment lawyer in Los Angeles will be familiar with this area of the law and can provide you with sound legal advice.  Although a sexual harassment lawsuit can be a difficult time for you personally and professionally, a sexual harassment lawyer in Los Angeles can help you achieve a fair resolution.  Employers, as this story suggests, can be held liable for sexual harassment if their employees engage in offensive or abusive behavior.  A Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer can answer any questions you may have and can recommend a course of action that will help you achieve the best results based on the facts of your case.