Power Play

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Things got even worse when she found peepholes in the women's locker room. "Management did not allow me to find out who the perpetrator was, as they did not want a 'scandal,'" Gallegos said. "There are still holes in the women's locker room ceiling that are stuffed with toilet paper. Management had done nothing to repair the problem; I put the paper there myself. When I left, there were a total of nine peepholes in the women's locker room."

Gallegos claimed she was denied promotions and transfers by supervisors who didn't like the fact that a woman was working in a traditionally male job. "Women in a nontraditional job are looked at as a 'whore' or 'tramp,' and supposedly the only reason I got and kept my job was because they said I was 'putting out,'" she stated in the affidavit. "One time two of my fellow men employees said they saw me at City Park the day before, 'screwing right on the grass.' Some of the supervisors let the men chastise and make gender jokes at my expense. They did not control and stop this behavior. In fact, some of the supervisors acted in the same manner."

Her work was singled out for criticism, Gallegos claimed, and she was chastised for mistakes in front of other employees. Because cleaning was regarded as "women's work," she said she was assigned to clean the men's locker room, and was interrupted on four different occasions by men who walked in stark naked.

"I was constantly retaliated against when I complained about sex discrimination," Gallegos stated. "After I went to management, my name was then advertised as being the troublemaker. I, like many of the other female employees, was afraid to make waves and jeopardize my job. From past experiences, I knew that 'troublemakers' would be forced out."

Gallegos suffered a nervous breakdown in February 1994. According to her affidavit, she has been diagnosed with severe major depression due to work-related stress; four other doctors have confirmed this diagnosis.

Marcia Oates, another worker at the Comanche plant, claimed she was continually harassed by her supervisor and several other employees. At one point, she said in an affidavit, she told her supervisor a co-worker who had threatened her was bringing guns into the warehouse. The supervisor responded, "I can understand why the postal workers would go in and shoot their fellow employees."

Oates said she attempted to get management to do something about the harassment, but to no avail. "I really tried to fix my problems with sex discrimination by going through company channels," she stated. "I filed several grievances with the union. However, filing grievances never fixed things. Instead, management and my co-workers retaliated against me for filing grievances and complaining about their discriminatory behavior. It was standard practice for people who complained to be retaliated against."

By the time the two women filed their suit, Public Service certainly had reason to know there might be a problem with sex discrimination at the Comanche plant. In 1991 the company had lost a sexual-harassment suit brought by a former plant maintenance worker, Victoria Hansel. Although the settlement was not disclosed, it was reportedly for several hundred thousand dollars.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock found that Public Service had created a hostile work environment for women and that Hansel's co-workers "began a continuous and concerted campaign of sexual harassment and discrimination intended to force her out of plant operations, previously an all-male environment." Although the company claimed that "evolving sensibilities absolve it of liability," Babcock angrily dismissed that argument. "I have no doubt that the facts of this case would rattle the sensibilities of the ancestors in Darwin's family tree," the judge said in his decision.

Public Service acknowledges there have been problems with the behavior of some employees at the Comanche plant. "Comanche has been a trying place for us," says PSC spokesman Mark Stutz. "There are difficulties when you're trying to change corporate culture. Ninety-five percent of the employees at Comanche have heard the company's message that they need to change. We've been doing diversity training at Comanche since the early 1980s. When you get down to individual behavior, sometimes it's difficult to regulate."

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers