Technicolor Videocassettes Inc. agreed Tuesday to pay $875,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by 18 women who said they endured a hostile workplace in which lewd comments, sexually explicit pictures and groping were common. In one instance, an employee said she was forced to perform a sexual act for her supervisor.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will monitor working conditions at Technicolor for as long as three years, according to a consent decree filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Technicolor, a Camarillo-based division of Thomson Multimedia, is a leading movie industry supplier and distributor of film prints, videocassettes, DVDs and CDs.
Technicolor executives also agreed to provide training for managers and employees to correct what the EEOC described as an "open and blatant" sexually charged atmosphere throughout the company's Camarillo facility.
EEOC officials said the case was unusual because most companies quickly address abuse complaints to avoid the filing of a lawsuit. The Technicolor case also is rare, according to the EEOC, because it involves an entertainment company.
Although the commission receives many inquiries each year by organizations or individuals in the entertainment industry, few follow through with a formal complaint, said Anna Y. Park, EEOC's regional attorney in Los Angeles. "It's a closed-lipped culture, and people are afraid to complain because of the backlash," she said. "People are afraid of losing their jobs. They want to work in the industry. It is a tight community, and once you're out, you're out."
The EEOC's Los Angeles office receives as many as 4,000 formal complaints each year, of which only about 20 result in lawsuits.
Although Technicolor agreed to settle the lawsuit and pay the women who complained, the company did not admit liability, according to court documents. A company representative said officials wanted to focus on improving workplace conditions rather than on litigation.
"We feel this proactive approach that we've taken is more positive for our employees and our business than protracted litigation," said Technicolor spokeswoman Laura Barber-Miller. She declined to comment further.
Three of the women in the lawsuit still work at Technicolor, Park said, although most were employed at the facility when the lawsuit was filed in August 2001. A majority of the women received minimum wage for factory work.
Complaints were made about supervisors in various divisions at the company, including those in the executive ranks, EEOC officials said. The women said they were subjected to sexually explicit photos and cartoons, verbal abuse and crude comments about their anatomy or questions about their sex lives. In one incident, a supervisor forced an employee to perform a sex act, EEOC officials said.
"It's a very hostile environment toward women," said Debra Prescott, 44, of Ventura. Prescott, one of the women involved in the lawsuit, worked as a senior technical analyst until she left in September 2000.
Prescott said she felt uncomfortable when she had to go to the manufacturing area to fix computers because some of the men would leer at her and make comments. The harassment didn't end there. She said a company executive once berated her in an obscenity-filled tirade. And she once had to fend off a male colleague who made a forcible advance. She said she discussed the incident with her male supervisor but they decided against reporting it.
"We said, 'What's the point, nothing would happen.' The more you complain, the more you are ostracized," Prescott said. "I just hope it gets better for the women who still work there."
Many of the women involved in the lawsuit are Latino and speak little or no English, such as Consuelo Dimas, 22, of Oxnard.
Dimas now works at a computer printer manufacturing plant where the management doesn't tolerate vulgar comments or behavior. But her first job was at Technicolor. She started when she was 18, and during her four years there she worked her way up to lead line worker preparing videocassette tapes for distribution--a job she loved despite the often suggestive remarks by a male supervisor.
"We were all afraid of losing our jobs," Dimas said. "We just knew that we weren't supposed to complain."