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Female employee was pressured to enter into sham marriage, EEOC charges in sexual harassment suit

Courtesy Building Services, a Texas-based janitorial and maintenance service, violated Title VII by subjecting a female employee to sexual harassment, including being pressured to marry a stranger from Thailand to promote his efforts toward citizenship, the EEOC charged in a recent lawsuit. According to the agency, Operations Manager Melissa Gaona was subjected to unlawful sexual harassment starting in 2005. In addition to lewd remarks said to her or in her presence by management personnel, she was asked by a manager to enter into marriage with a stranger, a non-citizen, to enhance his opportunity to achieve citizenship.

“Enduring supervisors’ comments about women’s bodies and accounts of visits to the local strip clubs shouldn’t be a job requirement,” said EEOC supervisory trial attorney Toby Wosk Costas. “And pressuring a worker to enter into a marriage she doesn’t want, for ulterior motives, is simply unconscionable. It adds up to a hostile work environment that certainly violates federal laws against discrimination.”

In a suit filed in the Northern District of Texas, the EEOC seeks relief for Gaona as well as injunctive relief, including a court order to prevent the company from engaging in similar discriminatory conduct in the future; compensatory damages for emotional harm; and punitive damages to deter future acts of employment discrimination.

“This is definitely not the garden-variety sexual harassment case — compelling employees to marry is a new twist,” said regional attorney Robert Canino of the EEOC’s Dallas district office. “Asking women to marry as a part of their job duties or terms of employment is not only illegal under Title VII, but if the idea is to circumvent the immigration laws of the United States, the discriminatory treatment also puts the employees themselves in jeopardy of violating federal laws.”