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Nine women have filed a complaint in federal court against BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair Inc., alleging that the company sexually discriminated against them by denying them equal pay and allowing a hostile work environment.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed Monday on behalf of the women and all other non-managerial female employees at BAE's shipyard from Oct. 5, 2007, to the present. Eight of the nine women listed as plaintiffs still work at the yard.
"The complaint alleges a pervasive culture of discrimination against women at the BAE shipyard," said Joshua Friedman, the New York-based attorney for the plaintiffs.
The discrimination, Friedman said, begins with the shipyard executive responsible for the day-to-day operations and extends to managers who, he said, frequently communicate their belief that women do not belong there.
"Women should be home cooking my dinner while I'm out working," a weld supervisor told one plaintiff, the suit alleges.
In a statement, BAE disputed the allegations.
"BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair values its employees and is committed to treating each and every one fairly and with respect," Neil Franz, a spokesman, wrote in an email. "We treat allegations of discrimination very seriously and have well-established policies prohibiting discrimination in our workplace. BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair disagrees with the allegations in the lawsuit, and will respond appropriately."
The allegations include graphic accounts of sexual harassment. One plaintiff who made such allegations eventually resigned late last year.
"Over the past four years I have been subjected to frequent vulgar language, offensive comments about women's bodies, offensive physical contact and romantic come-ons, bigoted statements about women's role in the workplace, and more, from management, coworkers and contractors working at BAE," she said in her resignation letter, cited in the suit.
All of the plaintiffs had filed grievances with the company and most later took their complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The commission eventually issued notices to them advising them of their right to sue while the commission continues to process their charges.
The suit states that as of early fall 2012, "there were only one or two female supervisors" in BAE Systems Norfolk's 22 shops.
It alleges that at about the same time, when BAE officials learned that a lawsuit could be filed, more women were made supervisors. Among other things, the suit demands back pay, damages for lost compensation and job benefits, and damages for emotional distress.
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