TradeOff settles sexual harassment claims for $1.5M
Attorney General Letitia James brokers agreement between construction firm, female workers
During her two years at TradeOff Construction Services, Javashia Johnson was moved from site to site after complaining that supervisors touched her inappropriately and repeatedly pressured her for sex. Ultimately, she was fired.
Nearly two years after Johnson made these claims in a federal lawsuit, TradeOff has settled sexual-harassment and other claims brought by her and 17 other employees who worked for the Lynbrook-based firm. Johnson’s case had been continued by her family after she died of an illness in November.
“It was weighing on her, as it would probably any other woman in that situation,” her mother, Jamella Johnson, said in an interview on Sunday. “I just feel good that something came from it. It won’t bring her back, but it’s something.”
TradeOff has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle the allegations following an investigation by the New York attorney general’s office, which found that employees were told to perform sex acts for pay and overtime and faced retaliation for reporting inappropriate behavior. Authorities also determined that TradeOff failed to adequately respond to reports of worksite harassment.
Johnson’s mother said working for TradeOff was her daughter’s first job in construction. When her daughter began recounting incidents at work, she encouraged her daughter to report to the company that she was being sexually harassed.
“She was afraid to say something,” she said. “I’m just hoping in the long run it will make other women come forward.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in an interview that her office was first notified of allegations against TradeOff in 2016. She said this was the first settlement ever reached by the state attorney general’s office in a sexual harassment case in the construction industry. Typically, such lawsuits are quietly settled outside of court and include nondisclosure agreements. When asked why such a milestone has taken so long to reach, James pointed to the MeToo movement as part of the reason “more individuals are willing to step up and speak out.”
Over the last three years, several civil lawsuits against the construction company detailed a pattern of supervisors harassing female workers and punishing those who rebuffed their advances. In her April 2019 complaint, Jaleesa McCrimmon alleged that she was choked by a supervisor and stopped getting assignments after reporting the incident and sexual harassment.
“Nobody should keep quiet, nobody should feel less-than,” McCrimmon told The Real Deal after the settlement. “Nobody should be treated unfairly.”
Another TradeOff worker, Tierra Williams, alleged that she was repeatedly harassed by a supervisor. He would pressure her to sleep with him and stared at her menacingly, especially when she was going in and out of the bathroom. At the time, Williams was making frequent trips to the bathroom because she had returned to work just a few days after having a miscarriage, she said in an interview. She had worked through her pregnancy without being put on light duty, she said.
“There was nothing in place to support me as a woman on that site,” she said.
As part of the settlement, which includes funds for other workers who may come forward, TradeOff must install a monitor for three years and change its sexual harassment reporting policies. In a statement, TradeOff said it is working with the attorney general’s office to strengthen protections of employees, including “heightened harassment training and reporting mechanisms.”
“TradeOff considers any level of harassment to be unacceptable, and deeply regrets that our processes for training and oversight failed some of the women who worked for us,” a TradeOff spokesperson said in a statement.
However, the company, which uses nonunion workers, also pointed to a series of legal spats with laborers union Local 79.
“Though TradeOff acknowledges the deficiencies of its system and pledges to improve them, we believe many of the complaints were driven by a long-lasting dispute with a union that had trouble competing with TradeOff for labor services,” its statement said.
Local 79 and the firm have traded lawsuits over the years. The union accused TradeOff of surveilling its sites and cheating on payments to its benefit funds. Local 79’s parent organization, the Mason Tenders District Council, also accused TradeOff CEO Ron Lattanzio of creating a “a web of interrelated companies” — TradeOff’s affiliates include Construction & Realty Services Group — to use his former contacts at the city’s Department of Buildings to enrich himself. (Lattanzio formerly worked as an expeditor and testified in the early 2000s that he bribed DOB officials.) That lawsuit has been dismissed.
TradeOff, in turn, has accused Local 79 of harassing TradeOff employees. Lattanzio previously attributed the union’s allegations to the increasing use of nonunion construction labor in New York and organized labor’s inability to compete on cost.
The company was also embroiled in a broader fight at Related Companies and Oxford Properties’ Group’s Hudson Yards. The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, an umbrella organization of construction unions, objected to the developers’ plan to use nonunion labor for the second phase of Hudson Yards and pointed to Related’s use of TradeOff. But in March 2019, Related and the Building Trades settled their dispute, which opened the door to open-shop work at the megadevelopment.
In a statement, Local 79 said it told the attorney general’s office that TradeOff failed “to prevent or stop the sexual harassment and dehumanization of Black women construction laborers on its construction worksites.”
Representatives for the union referred to TradeOff as a “body shop” because it finds most of its workers through prison reentry programs. Because such workers must maintain employment as a condition of their parole, “complaining about job conditions and mistreatment can cost body shop workers their freedom.”
“It’s disgusting and indefensible,” Tamir Rosenblum, general counsel for the Mason Tenders District Council, said in a statement. “Body shops like TradeOff profit from the exploitation of vulnerable people, including low-income women and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers.”
Williams said she hopes the settlement encourages others to speak out if they are mistreated at work.
“We have more of a voice than we did before,” Williams said. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Write to Kathryn Brenzel at firstname.lastname@example.org