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OFCCP Settles Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Case with Construction Contractor in Puerto Rico

Overview of article. On April 2, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL")'s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs ("OFCCP") announced that it settled a case with Constructora Santiago II Corp. ("Contructora Santiago" or "the company"), a Federal construction contractor in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The OFCCP stated that under the terms of the settlement, Constructora Santiago will make a lump sum payment of $40,000 to three female carpenters who were sexually harassed, retaliated against and denied regular and overtime work hours comparable to those of their male counterparts.

Background of case. The agency stated that: 1) Constructora Santiago has built more than $900 million worth of highways and bridges in Puerto Rico, as well as commercial and industrial structures; and 2) in January 2012, when OFCCP's review began, the company held a Federally-assisted contract worth more than $10 million with the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority.

The settlement followed an investigation by the OFCCP. According to the agency's announcement, OFCCP investigators reviewed Constructora Santiago's employment practices and determined that the company:

* violated Executive Order 11246 by discriminating against women in compensation and by permitting sexual harassment and retaliation against employees who complained about a hostile work environment;

* did not provide adequate restroom facilities for female employees, including at times when Constructora Santiago provided no restrooms for women, and female employees were forced to relieve themselves outdoors, even in the presence of male colleagues;

* when a restroom was available, it was not separate from the men's restroom and was not clean; and

* female workers were subjected to unwelcome, sexually charged comments, teasing, jokes and pressure to go out on dates.

Terms of Settlement. The agency stated that the conciliation agreement entered into by Constructora Santiago and the OFCCP resolved the above issues and "numerous other legal violations" at the company's construction work sites across Puerto Rico. Under the terms of the conciliation agreement, the company:

* will pay $40,000 to the three female carpenters;

* provide adequate toilet and changing facilities for the female employees and develop anti-harassment policies; and

* undertake extensive self-monitoring measures and training to ensure that the company's employment practices fully comply with Executive Order 11246, which prohibits Federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Regarding the settlement, OFCCP Director Patricia A. Shiu stated that: "[n]o person --- male or female --- should have to put up with the degrading and inappropriate treatment these women faced just to get a paycheck. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior, and it's particularly egregious when the discrimination takes place at work sites funded by taxpayers."

Observations. This settlement is an example of the OFCCP resolving issues involving allegations regarding sexual harassment and worksite facilities in addition to claims of compensation discrimination.

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