Con Ed settles over accusations of sexual harassment, inequality

Con Edison building at 4 Irving Place

Con Edison building at 4 Irving Place

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Con Edison has agreed to a settlement with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to resolve accusations of ongoing discrimination and sexual harassment against women working in field positions for the company.

The agreement requires that Con Ed reserve up to $3.8 million that will be distributed to over 300 female workers employed in field jobs through a claims process administered by the EEOC and the attorney general. A representative from Con Edison said that the utility had voluntarily entered into the settlement agreement to resolve the investigations that began in 2007 and the agreement resolves the investigation without findings of wrongdoing. However, complaints alleged that the company failed to take effective action to improve or prevent the discriminatory conditions. The women in field positions even reported that they faced retaliation when they complained to supervisors or to Con Edison’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion about their work conditions.

“I worked at Con Edison for thirteen years, primarily as an Inspector in the field,” Con Ed Inspector Kawana Howard said. “I loved my job, was good at what I did and took pride in the fact that I was helping to keep our city running. Yet over the years I faced gender-based discrimination from my some of my male supervisors and co-workers and was retaliated against when I complained, ultimately culminating in my recent termination.”

All of the eligible settlement group members are women who were employed by Con Ed from 2006 to 2014 and they alleged that the utility company failed to address widespread harassment faced by women from male co-workers and supervisors. They were working with men in power stations, in manholes and in other physically strenuous field positions. These women alleged that they were denied and given sub par on-the-job training compared to male peers, not provided tools or safety gear in situations where male coworkers were supplied with both, given less positive performance evaluations than their male counterparts for doing comparable work, denied adequately sanitary and private restroom, shower and changing facilities, refused when seeking admission to classes necessary for promotions and subjected to disparate and excessive discipline compared to male coworkers who engaged in similar conduct.

In addition to the monetary relief, Con Ed will be required to retain an independent consultant to evaluate the company’s compliance with the terms of the agreement, as well as an independent equal employment opportunity specialist to develop and conduct employee training.

The investigation originated from charges filed by seven former and current employees who worked in field positions, including Sharron Sellick, Andrea McSwain and Kecia McCowen and the investigation was launched by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau.

“All women,” said Schneiderman, “especially those working in male-dominated workplaces, deserve respect and equal treatment — as the law, basic decency, and the success of our economy require.”

The utility also issued a statement to stressed that this behavior is not something that the company will stand for.

“We do not tolerate discrimination in any form in the workplace,” the company said in an official statement. “With this agreement, Con Edison is reaffirming its commitment to maintaining a workforce that promotes diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity. We will further enhance training of our employees and management to help ensure that those principles are upheld.”

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