03/30/2009

SPLC Files Complaint After Worker Sexually Assaulted, Brutalized by Manager

A Latina factory worker in North Carolina was brutally assaulted by the plant manager after she had earlier reported his sexual harassment to officials of the yarn company that employed her, according to a federal court complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The complaint, part of a motion filed by the SPLC today, alleges that Tuscarora Yarns Inc. of Oakboro, N.C., failed to protect the woman, who speaks very little English, after she told superiors about unwelcome sexual advances, comments, innuendo and physical contact by the manager in 2007.

On Dec. 29, 2007, she left the factory in an ambulance following an assault by the manager.

"It's unconscionable that Tuscarora Yarns ignored complaints of sexual harassment and allowed this manager's conduct to escalate to brutal sexual violence," said Mónica Ramírez, an SPLC attorney specializing in women's issues. "Our client was severely traumatized as a result of the company's conduct. She thought she was going to die."

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought a lawsuit today against the company in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, Salisbury Division. The separate SPLC motion seeks to intervene in the EEOC suit on behalf of the woman, whose identity is being withheld because of the nature of the suit.

The SPLC complaint says the manager's advances, which intensified between April 2007 and the December 2007 attack, were so persistent and common that other co-workers took notice. At one point, the woman even asked a co-worker to help her hide from the manager.

In October 2007, the manager attacked the woman in his office, but she managed to get free. After the factory worker reported the manager's behavior, a human resources manager responded by suspending and disciplining her. The stress from the situation resulted in anxiety and heart palpitations that grew so severe she believed she was having a heart attack and sought medical treatment.

Two months later, the manager called the woman into an office, ostensibly for a meeting. He then trapped her in the office and attacked her again.

During the attack, she was pulled across the floor by her hair. When she tried to escape by squeezing though a cracked door, he pressed the door against her body, crushing her. The woman eventually escaped into the factory, where she collapsed, battered and with her clothes torn. She was taken to a hospital by ambulance.

"No worker should ever have to endure such an ordeal," Ramirez said. "We're taking this action not only to protect future workers at this factory but to remind other companies that no employee should be forced to give up her dignity for a paycheck."