LOS ANGELES—An international call centre company based in Los Angeles was sued Wednesday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for widespread sexual harassment against female and male employees who were allegedly groped, shown pornographic images and propositioned by supervisors.
The EEOC said VXI Global Solutions had violated federal law by failing to curb the behaviour, making it difficult for employees to file complaints and then disciplining and even firing some who reported the abuse.
The company, which has 15,000 employees in the U.S., Asia and Latin America who do sales and customer service at the call centres, did not immediately return several calls seeking comment.
Anna Park, the regional EEOC attorney, said the case is unique because women and men were subjected to the abuse. The men endured an additional layer of harassment when they were mocked as not being masculine when they objected to the behaviour.
“It’s telling that you have both men and women who were harassed,” Park said. “That exemplifies the pervasiveness of the problem.”
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court said the abuse dated back five years and was perpetuated by a male floor manager who created a hostile work environment with other supervisors at an LA call centre. Six women and three men are named as victims in the complaint.
Women employees were subjected to groping, sexual propositions and lewd commentary about their bodies. Sexually harassing comments included talk of having a threesome with a woman who worked there and a joke about raping a female colleague.
One female supervisor is alleged to have given unwanted backrubs to men in the office, and a female supervisor allegedly tried to give a lap dance to a male employee.
“When the male employees objected to the sexual comments or to the sexual images being shown, they were subjected to further sexual harassment through sexual stereotyping for not being what a man should be by being called a ‘fag’ or ‘gay,”‘ the lawsuit said.
Seven who complained were eventually fired, Park said, after being disciplined or intimidated.
Some were told that “snitches get stitches,” the lawsuit said. In at least one instance, those who complained had to attend a reading from a book titled “Gangsta Jake, The End Result of a Snitch,” Park said.
The complaint said the behaviour should have been well known to management because of the open layout of the office.
The lawsuit seeks to have the company bar such behaviour, comply with federal law, provide training to employees to prevent future abuse and compensate employees for lost wages and the humiliation they suffered.
The company has offices in the U.S., China, the Philippines, Columbia, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to its website. Clients include Verizon and DirecTV, according to an EEOC spokeswoman.