NJ Transit Employee Alleges Harassment Based on His Sexual Orientation

Newark, NJ– An electrician for the New Jersey Transit has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against his employer for allowing a hostile work environment and failing to take action against his harassers.

In his lawsuit, obtained by the North Jersey Record, John Pastore alleges he endured repeated sexual harassment from male coworkers who thought he was gay, and tormented for his presumed sexual orientation.

According to the suit, one of Pastore’s coworkers slapped him on the buttocks, another splashed water in his face. Two other coworkers left a toilet, with a vulgar drawing taped to, in front of his locker, the North Jersey Record reported.

Pastore would receive phone calls in which he was called a bevy of gay slurs. He was asked about his sexual activities and what kind of men he liked. He was screamed at and mocked for the way he talked. He was also accused of being attracted to one of his male coworkers, and another employee grabbed his buttocks, the Record reported.

Pastore said he endured these types of behaviors for two years and even though the NJ Transit office of equal rights conducted an investigation the NJ Transit took no action against his harassers.

Pastore’s suit doesn’t clarify his sexual orientation, but his attorney, Fred Shahrooz Scampato,explained to the Record that New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination offers protection to individuals, who are thought to be gay, even if their sexual orientation is not known.

The state law is in line with the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was amended in the 90s to forbid discrimination and harassment of transgendered and gay employees. The law also covers discrimination of a people who are believed to be gay whether they are or not.

Same-sex sexual harassment has been on the rise. Overall sexual harassment complaints with the EEOC have been steadily declining over the past decade, but claims filed by men have increased. In 2011, 16.3 percent of sexual harassment complaints were filed by men, compared to 13.7 percent a decade earlier.

“Anecdotally, we have noticed that there have been more cases,” of same-sex sexual harassment suits, says James Ryan, a spokesperson for the EEOC, explained to the Christian Monitor in 2011.

Federal courts have recognized same-sex sexual harassment since 1998 when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision the Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services case which affirmed that same-sex claims were considered sexual harassment.

Shelley Gregory, director of the LGBT Workers Rights Project and the San Francisco-based Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center, explained to the Christian Monitor that most of the same-sex harassment case we see today involve straight men who are trying “to communicate some sort of derogatory message.”

While the reasons same-sex sexual harassment claims are on the rise may vary, one contributing factor could men’s willingness to speak out about the harassment. There is much less stigma attached to being gay than there was 10 years ago and gay men and women feel more empowered.