Under cover of darkness, female janitors face rape and assault

Source: Bernice Yeung, Center for Investigative Reporting, Reveal, June 23, 2015
Daffodil Altan of Reveal, Sasha Khokha of KQED and Andrés Cediel and Lowell Bergman of IRP reported for this story.

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….The night shift janitor is an easy target for abuse. She clocks in after the last worker has flipped off the lights and locked the door. It’s tough work done for little pay in the anonymity of night, among mazes of empty cubicles and conference rooms. She’s even less likely to speak up if she’s afraid of being deported or fired. Across the country, janitors at companies large and small say their employers have compounded the problem by turning a blind eye to complaints and attacking their credibility when they report abuse at the hands of their supervisors or co-workers. In the janitorial world, ABM is the largest. It employs the most cleaners in the country and has a history of facing charges that it failed to prevent sexual violence. It’s among a rare group of 15 American corporations to have been targeted multiple times by the federal government for sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued ABM three times since 2000 for mishandling complaints of sexual harassment or worse. Two of those cases involved allegations of rape, which is striking considering how rare it is for people to make these types of allegations publicly. In all three cases, the company settled and agreed to make improvements…..

….We found 42 lawsuits from the past two decades in which ABM janitors said they had been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped at work. An unknown number of cases have been hidden from public view through confidential settlements. And despite government-imposed reform plans, similar accusations continue to crop up. In Los Angeles, two lawsuits filed in the past year say women who complained about explicit comments or sexual assault were ignored. After more than a year of correspondence, ABM officials declined to be interviewed. The company instead provided a statement from its lawyer, Miranda Tolar. It said the way ABM handles the issue is the “gold standard” for the industry…..

….In Massachusetts, seven female janitors cleaning universities and office buildings for a company called UGL Unicco sued their employer after they said their supervisor touched and harassed them. The case settled in 2002 for $1 million; the company did not admit wrongdoing. Janitors have sued the company five times in federal courts since then. In Minnesota, a janitor filed a lawsuit in 2009 that claimed she was raped repeatedly by her boss while on the clock cleaning a shopping mall. When it got notice of her complaint, cleaning company Service Management Systems asked the accused manager to gather evidence for the case. The company settled the case and later said this was against its protocol. The janitor now works uneventfully for ABM…..

….Janitors have claimed that they were forced to clock in using two different names to avoid racking up overtime, Lerner said. They say unscrupulous contractors call them independent contractors so they don’t have to follow labor laws. Segments of the workforce aren’t authorized to work in the U.S., a scenario that makes workers vulnerable to abuses and puts companies at risk for legal problems. Another part of the industry operates completely on the black market. The outfits go unregistered with the government to avoid paying taxes or insurance. These off-the-grid companies can charge far less than their competitors, said Lilia Garcia-Brower of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, which is partially funded by ABM to ferret out labor violations among nonunionized companies…..