Black woman files harassment complaint against New Bedford seafood business

A worker has filed a complaint with the state of Massachusetts against a seafood business she says subjected her to years of sexual harassment and racial discrimination on the job.

The worker, Paula Fortes, is a Black woman who immigrated to the U.S. from Cape Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa. She filed an amended version of her complaint against Eastern Fisheries, a New Bedford seafood harvester and distributor, with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on Tuesday.

Fortes said she endured repeated and persistent sexual and racial comments while working, including disparaging comments about her hair texture, such as another worker calling her “broom hair.” She said she was also subjected to unwanted touching while working. Fortes agreed through an attorney to be identified by name on Tuesday.

Fortes said through an attorney that she complained to Eastern Fisheries and BJ's Service Co., a temporary employment agency that placed her at the seafood business as a fish cleaner, and received no meaningful help. Her complaint to the state names both companies.

“I have worked with these companies for years and raised concerns about the treatment I was receiving due to my identity. Yet little was done to address the widespread harassment,” Fortes said. “This experience was scarring and continues to impact my life to this day."

Fortes' complaint states that she worked at Eastern Fisheries from April 2017 to September 2021. While there, she also did custodial work, she said.

Representatives for Eastern Fisheries and BJ's Service Co. did not respond to requests for comment about the complaint.

The employers will have an opportunity to respond, and the commission will do its own investigation, said Mirian Albert, an attorney for Fortes who works with Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston.

A representative for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination did not respond to a call seeking comment about the case. The commission is an independent state agency that enforces Massachusetts' anti-discrimination laws.



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