Verizon is investigating complaints of sexual harassment filed by eight women against a Memphis firm it contracts with for shipping of cellphones.
Eight current and former female employees at XPO Logistics filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in April saying they were aggressively groped, faced unwanted sexual advances, lewd comments and retaliation for reporting harassment to their human resources department.
Under a contract with Verizon, XPO Logistics receives and distributes the wireless provider’s cellphones at the Memphis work site. About 900 employees work at the XPO Logistics facility in Memphis.
One of the women employees alleging harassment, Debra Perry, says in her complaint a male supervisor had “touched her inappropriately on several occasions, such as touching her side or rubbing her arm. … In March 2018, he came over to give her a peppermint, dropped it into her hand, then reached down and grabbed her left breast. It happened so quickly that Ms. Perry didn’t know how to react.”
Another employee, Tasha Murrell of Memphis, who worked at the site for more than six years, said after telling a woman supervisor that she was pregnant, the woman supervisor said she “didn’t need a baby and should have an abortion.” The next week after working a 15-hour shift, Murrell went to the hospital and had a miscarriage. She also reported a male supervisor “on more than one occasion … rubbed against her or grabbed her hand.”
After reporting the harassment to a supervisor, Murrell says supervisors began to write her up for insubordination and gossiping.
At the end of Verizon’s annual shareholder meeting Thursday in Seattle, Murrell and another XPO Logistics employee, Lakeisha Nelson, discussed the matter privately with CEO Lowell McAdam and board members Frances Keeth and Rodney Slater. “It was very cordial, but we heard them loud and clear,” Verizon’s director of corporate communications Bob Varettoni told USA TODAY.
Upon learning about the allegations, Verizon began “an immediate investigation” and learned XPO has hired an outside firm to investigate the complaints, he says. The outcome of the findings will determine whether Verizon continues to contract with XPO Logistics, Verizon’s attorneys said in a letter to the company. XPO Logistics’ contract is worth tens of millions of dollars, the company says.
“While these serious allegations against XPO Logistics do not involve Verizon employees, Verizon has zero tolerance for discrimination and sexual harassment, and we expect our suppliers to abide by these standards,” Varettoni said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY.
XPO Logistics said in a statement to USA TODAY: “Our culture promotes safety and respect. We have absolutely no tolerance for any form of harassment, including sexual harassment and we promptly investigate all claims that are brought to our attention.”
Several women’s groups and unions sent a letter to McAdam on Wednesday seeking a meeting to discuss the “toxic culture” at XPO Logistics and how it runs counter to Verizon’s own promises to combat sexual harassment and misconduct throughout its distribution network.
Among the groups contacting Verizon about the allegations were the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and SAG-AFTRA unions, the Tennessee branch of the NAACP, the National Women’s Law Center, non-profit workers’ rights group A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, and non-profit women’s reproductive rights group SisterReach.
Some union members and women’s rights supporters protested prior to Verizon’s shareholder meeting Thursday in Seattle.
“The abusive and discriminatory treatment at the Verizon-contracted warehouse is appalling and unacceptable,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the NAACP’s Tennessee State Conference and one of the signers of the letter to McAdam. “Verizon’s investigation is an important first step, but now the company must agree to meet with us on next steps to put the female workers’ safety front and center.”
Collectively, the women’s alleged harassments occurred between October 2014 and March 2018.
The current XPO warehouse where the alleged harassment took place has been a site of harassment in the past. New Breed Logistics, which previously owned the warehouse, was fined $1.5 million in a 2010 jury trial over a supervisor’s sexual harassment and retaliation against complaints. The verdict was upheld in July 2015.
“From the previous incidents and allegations, and now new sexual harassment allegations under XPO Logistics it seems that this is not an isolated issue,” the letter signed by the groups and unions says. “The XPO warehouse reportedly exhibits a toxic culture that runs contrary to Verizon’s stated policies and practices.”
Teamsters general president James P. Hoffa said at a union rally in Memphis on Wednesday that the Teamsters would organize the XPO warehouse workers. During the rally, women also complained about working conditions at the Memphis XPO warehouse and the on-the-job death of a co-worker.
Union members, leaders rally in support of workers at an XPO Logistics warehouse in Memphis. Wayne Risher/The Commercial Appeal
Contributing: Wayne Risher, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.