Trans World Arlines agreed on Thursday to pay $2.6 million to settle a sexual harassment suit on behalf of dozens of women at TWA's facilities at JFK International Airport in New York, federal officials said.
TWA, which was recently bought by American Airlines' parent, AMR Corp., during Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, admitted no liability to charges that it subjected the women to a sexually hostile work environment over a 10-year span that started in 1988, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.
"As this case shows, tolerating a sexually hostile work environment and retaliating against employees for exercising their statutory rights comes at a high cost," EEOC Chairwoman Ida Castro said in a statement.
Under the settlement of the EEOC's June 1998 suit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., nine women who took the lead in filing the harassment and retaliation complaints will receive $1.5 million and the remaining $1.1 million will go to unidentified women estimated by the EEOC in the dozens.
"We have no way of giving a more precise estimate," said EEOC lawyer Andree Peart. "Many women were unwilling to step forward and be an identified member of the class for fear of being retaliated against, as other women were retaliated against."
Nearly 3,000 women worked at TWA's JFK facilities during the period specified in the suit, doing numerous jobs that included customer service, maintenance and directing TWA aircraft on the ground, Peart said.
The EEOC said the suit began with discrimination charges by three former female employees who alleged that their on-duty male supervisors engaged in severe and repeated sexually offensive conduct, even as some women who were directing aircraft ground movements were in contact with the plane.
The conduct by male supervisors included unsolicited touching, sexual propositions, exposing of genitals, lewd comments, and abusive or offensive language, the EEOC said.
TWA took no remedial action after the women complained about the discriminatory practices, the suit said.
Instead, the airline retaliated against the women who complained by subjecting them to even more harassment from supervisors, assigning them to undesirable tasks, shunning them or threatening them, Peart said.
"The 'stick your head in the sand' approach to dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace proved very costly in this case," said attorney Robert Lipman, whose firm, Lipman & Plesur, represented three of the women.