New Bedford Fisheries Worker Files Sexual Harassment Complaint
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include comments from an Eastern Fisheries representative who stated that Fortes' complaint was filed a year ago and the material distributed on Tuesday is an amendment to the original complaint.
The representative added that Eastern Fisheries is not able to comment on pending litigation.
NEW BEDFORD — A worker at one of New Bedford's biggest seafood processing companies has filed a complaint with the state's discrimination commission for sexual harassment in the workplace.
Lawyers for Civil Rights said Tuesday that Cape Verdean immigrant Paula Fortes filed the complaint against Eastern Fisheries and temporary employment agency BJ's Service Company with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
In the complaint, Fortes outlines roughly five years of alleged sexual harassment throughout her work as a fish cleaner and custodian at Eastern Fisheries, a global seafood company headquartered in New Bedford.
Eastern Fisheries made headlines earlier this spring after laying off workers and cutting ties with staffing agency BJ's amid a federal probe into their labor practices, as reported by Will Sennott of the New Bedford Light.
Now, Fortes alleges that since she started working for the seafood giant through BJ's in 2016, she was subjected to "persistent sexual and racial harassment and offensive and inappropriate comments," according to Lawyers for Civil Rights.
She claimed in the complaint that from the first day she started work, her colleagues — both female and male — "regularly uttered sexual innuendos about my body and hair, and about my race," among other identity-based harassment.
Fortes said she was repeatedly subjected to racially disparaging comments about her hair, such as calling it "broom hair," and comments like "you don't have dark skin like Cape Verdeans."
She also allegedly received sexual comments like "I want that ass" and repeated inappropriate touching from coworkers.
When Fortes declined sexual advances from her male colleagues, both the men and women she worked with often said that it was because she preferred women, according to the complaint.
After she spoke with management about the continued harassment, the other workers repeatedly left feces and other messes on the bathroom floor for her to clean up — and even drew offensive depictions of her on the wall, Fortes alleged.
"My colleagues' harassment continued until my resignation in September 2021," Fortes wrote in the MCAD complaint.
"Due to the harassment I was experiencing, I intentionally isolated myself at work, avoiding all interactions with others unless it was required," she noted. "These incidents and the companies' inaction weighed heavily on me."
"This experience was scarring and continues to impact my life to this day," Fortes said in a statement released by Lawyers for Civil Rights.
"I demand justice for myself and want changes to be made for the sake of all workers after me."
Her complaint was brought with help from New Bedford's Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores, Lawyers for Civil Rights, and Justice at Work.
Spokespeople from BJ's could not be reached for comment.