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Federal lawsuit alleges Fall River fish plant, staffing firm, allowed sexual harassment

A Fall River seafood processing plant and its staffing firm have been accused of allowing the sexual harassment of non-English speaking female employees in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Atlantic Capes Fisheries Inc. and BJ’s Service Co. Inc. violated federal law “by maintaining and failing to remedy a hostile work environment where female workers were subject to ongoing sexual harassment,” the commission said in a press release issued Wednesday night.

BJ’s Services Co. hired and transported workers to the Fall River facility.

In a statement issued Thursday, Atlantic Capes Fisheries accused the commission of attempting to try the case “in the court of public opinion” by releasing a statement to the media before the company was notified of the lawsuit.

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Atlantic Capes denies the claims, the statement said.

After reviewing the allegations in December 2015, the company “actively investigated all sexual harassment claims as soon as they were raised,” the statement said.

“ACF is, and always has been, an equal opportunity employer, and is committed to the cultivation and maintenance of a positive workplace environment,” the company said.

The commission’s 12-page complaint was filed in US District Court in Boston. The commission is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, according to the release.

The employees, all of them Spanish speakers, were allegedly harassed by line supervisors and managers, and the behavior continued even after they complained to supervisors and managers of both companies, the release stated.

“The harassment included solicitations for sex, lewd comments about the women’s bodies, and inappropriate touching of the women’s bodies,” according to the release.

“Federal law grants employees the right to work in an environment free from sex discrimination, including sex harassment,” Jeffrey Burstein, an EEOC attorney, said in the statement. “Gone are the days when a woman on a factory floor must endure lewd comments, propositions for sex, and inappropriate touching in order to earn a paycheck.”

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After three of the employees filed charges of sex discrimination with the commission, two of them were terminated, the release stated.

A court filing states that one of the women was hired to work at the plant in 2013 and assigned to the production line. A supervisor immediately asked the woman “about her personal life, stood close behind her on the line, and touched her body, including her back, hips and buttocks,” according to the filing.

When the woman objected to the behavior, the supervisor told her that he had no work for her. She then asked another supervisor for work, but she was sent back to the supervisor who had harassed her, the filing states.

On one occasion, the supervisor approached the woman from behind and asked her to touch his genitals, the complaint states. After she refused, he pressed himself against her backside, leaving her feeling humiliated, according to the suit.

This story has been updated with a response from Atlantic Cape Fisheries.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.