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Indigenous & Latina Women & Children's Human Rights News from the Americas 


 

 

Indigenous & Latina Women & Children's Human Rights News from the Americas 


 

 

Indigenous & Latina Women & Children's Human Rights News from the Americas 


 

 

. .

United States
- Latina Women and Children at Risk
Workplace Exploitation of Latinas in the U.S.
Case 1 - Computer Data Systems, Inc.

 
Note:  The below case relation is completely factual.  The events may seem startling for the average reader, but this case account tells a story that is happening every night in America in many office cleaning jobs, hotel jobs, restaurant and fast-food jobs, retail stores and other low-wage work places.

The author's 1994 Montgomery County, Maryland report was inspired by the inaction that the author encountered from the press, from police and from other local  government officials in regard to this and several similar cases within Montgomery County, Maryland.  Although the author rarely advocates directly now, in 2001, he has encountered additional cases in each and every year since first discovering this social dynamic in 1986.  Those cases add up to over 60.  Those 60 cases are events that the author has casually encountered based upon his extensive contact with the Washington, DC region's Latino community since 1978 and his contact with the low-wage work environment since 1986.  the author's 1994 report lists 37 of those cases.  There continues to be little in the way of effective  assistance for the Latina immigrant woman and girl-child in Montgomery County, Maryland in the year 2001.

During 1993, 1994 and 1995, the author presented detailed information about this below described case and several equally serious episodes of severe sexual harassment of Latina workers to the following organizations in Washington, DC/Maryland region:

 

- The Montgomery County Executive, office of the Hon. Neil Potter - presented a large report by the author on these issues to Neil Potter's office in 1992: "Racism and Sexism in Montgomery County, Maryland."  - No response.
- The Montgomery County Social Services Department - the author  submitted the first draft of his 1994 report, to the woman who is now head of MCDSS, as part of my job application and interview for the job position of Information Systems Specialist for the MCDSS. - No response.
- The Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, where the author assisted six Latina women from Montgomery County in the submission of formal legal complaints of harassment.  - Ineffective, sometime hostile responses.
- Officials of the Montgomery County Police Department, I presented my 1994 report, in written form and verbally, to several high placed police officials who were my daily co-workers at MCPD headquarters.  - No response.
- Detectives of the Montgomery County Police Department.  - Personal sympathy, but no response.
- The 1995 U.S. Department of Labor/DOL Women's Bureau's "Low Wage worker's Conference" in Washington, DC, where the author passed out his 1994 report to DOL/WB officials and conference participants.  A staff person at the "Ayuda" (Help) Latino legal services agency in Washington, DC allowed the author to attend this conference under their auspices.  - No response.
- The Washington Post Montgomery County Bureau, with whom the author had many conversations.  The editor in charge decided not to cover these issues.  One Latina reporter told me (in relation to a different Latina workplace abuse case- Case #3) "well, you are accusing these guys (the cleaning company on-site managers) of felonies."  

This Post reporter  was unsympathetic and actually "lost" the audio tape recording of one victim fighting off 20 minutes of a manager's attempted rape of her during her job re-interview (after she had been fired for not submitting to the manager's sexual demands). - No story was written.

- The Washington, DC Latino Civil Rights Task Force.  They were ultimately unresponsive, but did provide some software contracting work to the author in 1994 during the retaliatory job layoff described in the below account.
- The Gaithersburg Maryland Hispanic Catholic Center, were a senior worker was a friend.  After giving a copy of the author's 1994 report to her, she said  that the report would be sent to the region's archdiocese in Washington, DC. - No response.
- La Nacion (The Nation), Washington, DC's leading Latino newspaper at the time.  The director was a friend.  He decided not to follow up, and his reporters never called the author.  - No response.
- Several women's rights groups, to whom the author began to send copies of his 1994 report in the latter half of the 1990's by e-mail. - No response.
- A well-known public radio talk show host in Washington, DC.  - No response.
- The Montgomery County, Maryland chapter of the NAACP - Sympathetic, but little response.
- A local woman attorney in Rockville, Maryland, who told me that she had a list of Latino cleaning company supervisors accused of sexually assaulting their female employees that was "as long as my arm."  Despite stating that she had been a victim of sexual harassment herself, she was unsympathetic, and told me that if the cleaning supervisors involved (in the case presented here below) were not legally represented yet, she would likely end up representing them.  She therefore was unsympathetic. - No response.

Of all of the the organizations mentioned here above, only three  responded positively to my efforts to have these issues heard.  

The Montgomery County Commission for Women warmly received a one hour presentation by the author on the below case, on May 27, 1994.  That event had the first true impact in moving the hands of justice into action for this case (see below), if only indirectly. 

The organization Captive Daughters, Inc., based in Los Angeles, California, also responded positively to my inquiry to them in 1998.  Captive Daughters, Inc. works to end the global sex trafficking of children, with an emphasis on saving the girl-child.  In the fall of 1998 the author became a member of the Board of Directors of Captive Daughters, Inc. - http://www.captivedaughters.org.

In 1999 the author gave a half hour presentation regarding these issues to the Men's Rape Prevention Project, a local organization that trains volunteers to present workshops on rape and gender role issues to Washington, DC area high school and college audiences.  the author maintains informal contact with MRPP, who's name is now Men Can Stop Rape: http://www.mencanstoprape.org.

While the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau never responded to the author in regard to his 1994 report, the director of DOL/WB who followed the 1994 incumbent, a Latina woman (Ms. Ida Castro), did make public statements to the press in the late 1990's referring to DOL's recognition of the issue of the exploitation of immigrant women in low wage jobs.  

 


The Sexual Exploitation of Latina Women and Girls at CDSI.  1992-1994.

(Or - your tax dollars at work supporting a sexist federal contractor.)

(Or - sexual harassment, quid-pro-quo sexual demands and sexual assault with impunity in the low-wage American workplace.)


From 1992 to 1994, the author was working full time as a computer programmer at a very large computer services contracting corporation that catered to federal agency customers.  CDSI was a place where both women who were corporate employees, and the Latin cleaning women were sexually harassed.  According to the statements of a manger, the company in that time period spent over $60,000 yearly to defend against the suits of its own female employees, most of whom where white American women.  The contractor cleaning women had no legal recourse from the sexual harassment. 

This large corporation had a contract with another large company to clean its headquarters building in Rockville, Maryland, were the author worked.

Latina immigrant workers (teens and adults) were subjected to very clear and aggressive quid-pro-quo give-me-sex-or-you're-fired demands by both the cleaning contract manager and by his assistant manager.  Both men were from El Salvador.  Both openly declared to their staff that they were "machistas" (macho-ists).  It was common to hear about the fact that a number of women had in fact given in to the sexual demands of these cleaning crew managers.  These were poor Latina women and girls, some of whom were in the United States without proper documentation.  None of them were familiar with sexual harassment law nor employment law.

When two of these cleaning women approached the author seeking help to end this severe sexual harassment, the author told them to call the Montgomery County, Maryland Human Relations Commission (MCHRC).  The one woman cleaning employee who was fluent in English (a 22 year old nursing student) called the MCHRC.  The man who answered at MCHRC was hostile, and told the victims to just put up with the harassment, and that they should call again later if it got worse.  (the author knows this man, who was somewhat known for having that attitude.  He had once derided his co-workers in a very unflattering and emotionally angry way when talking on the phone to the author regarding another MCHRC case.  A co-worker of this man at MCHRC acknowledged to the author (during the subsequent complaint submission meeting in relation to this case) that my relation of this man's response to a victim's human relations inquiry was typical of his behavior and attitude.)

One night the author found a cleaning woman at the end of her shift trembling and crying profusely.  He consoled her.  He then proceeded to write a formal letter to the company informing them of the illegal sexual harassment and abuse that their contracted cleaning company manager and assistant manager were involved in.

On the day that the author got involved, the corporation promised the author that they would get rid of the culprits.  They initially expressed shock that these events were occurring.  CDSI's management met with the vice president of this large office cleaning company that afternoon.  Instead of reprimanding and/or firing the perpetrators, the cleaning company vice president apparently convinced CDSI to conspire to: 1) pressure the victims to quit (and they did quit); 2) harass the other women "complainers" into shutting up (and they did);  and push the author out of the company through intimidation (which they also succeeded in, but not without a year long battle of wits and action).

For over a year, the author endured his car getting broken into, having his car keyed twice, his phone being cut off every time the author called his lawyer about these issues, his pass card into the building being cut off mysteriously immediately after standing up for the Latina  Women workers, and a retroactive re-wording of his employee fitness reports to set up a scenario where they could  legally deny the author re-employment after a later layoff (in retrospect, this was planned for over a year).

The cleaning company vice president showed up at the author's desk the night after he wrote the formal letter of complaint to CDSI's president.  At 8:00 PM (part of the author's normal shift), the cleaning company vice president came into the author's work area an screamed at him, demanding to know who the victims of the sexual harassment were.  the author refused to tell him, but he was told by the actual perpetrators of the sexual assaults and sexual harassment, the two on-site cleaning supervisors.  The cleaning company vice president screamed at the author that the author should be fired for "getting into 'his' people's business."

the author did not work for this cleaning company vice president's company, but for his cleaning services client, CDSI.  Service company's who provide services to large corporations usually do not go around intimidating employees of their client's company.  Such a action is, under normal circumstances, not at all good for business.

Apparently CDSI and the cleaning company had some corporate linkage that allowed the cleaning company vice president to feel that he had the power to force the author's illegal retaliatory firing from CDSI as a response to the author's writing of a formal letter of complaint to CDSI, addressing the severe sexual harassment and assault of Latina immigrant cleaning women and minor girls at CDSI).

Unknown to the cleaning company vice president, the author's overall contract manger (four levels up the chain of management command from the author) was working late, as usual.  As this cleaning company vice president was screaming and pointing his finger in the author's face (intimidating, as he had a quarterback's build), the author walked over toward the CDSI project manager's cubicle so that this act of intimidation could be witnessed.

This CDSI project manager was not sympathetic.  He tried to justify the presence of this unknown stranger who did not work for this company.  Apparently this had all been "arranged" in a meeting between the cleaning company vice president and CDSI officials that day.  The cafeteria and the meeting rooms (where intimidating interrogations of the two women harassment victims by the cleaning company vice president were held), had been pre-reserved for this purpose during the day in question.

The cleaning crew of 14 was brought together in the cafeteria, and the two victims were, in a publicly embarassing way, called out of the crowd in front of their peers and were pulled into a CDSI corporate office where this cleaning company vice president sternly talked to the victims and told them not to file any legal complaints. 

Although the two women victims wanted me to be present at these intimidating interrogation sessions at CDSI, my software team's leader told me that if I entered the interrogation room he would call the police on me for interfering with the cleaning contractor vice president's actions!  Ultimately, I called the police to assist these women.

During this intimidation meeting behind closed doors, the author stated to the CDSI project manager present that he felt intimidated, and that, given the cleaning company vice president's intimidating actions towards the author, perhaps the police should be called.  At the time the author worked part time as the Montgomery County Police Department's civilian computer programmer for personal computer applications.  

This CDSI project manager told me emphatically not to call the police.

the author proceeded to call the police, stating to the 911 operator that intimidation, nothing illegal (yet), was occurring, but that the author wanted to insure that nothing illegal happened.  the author identified himself to the police dispatcher as a civilian employee of the department.  

The MCPD sent six patrol cars to CDSI headquarters.  After the author explained the situation to the officers, they waited until the cleaning company vice president released the sexual harassment victims before leaving.  the author explained to these officers the conditions of sexual assault and harassment that existed in the building.  the author also related to them that the local Montgomery County Human Relations Commission had been repeatedly  unresponsive, and these women had nowhere to turn for help.  The officers were sympathetic to the situation but refused to get involved without a formal complaint from a victim being filed.  The lead officer of the six officer team, an American woman, suggested that the author should approach the Maryland Human Relations Commission if the county's MCHR was being unresponsive in its actions.

Once the officers were assured that the author was satisfied that the women were in no apparent danger, they left.  During this episode, these six MCPD officers did not enter the office areas of the CDSI headquarters building where these intimidating interrogations were being held.   The cleaning company vice president was apparently afraid of the police presence, as he did not show his face to these MCPD officers and only came out of the building after they left.

After this embarrassing public humiliation, the victims left the company under pressure.  They were specifically asked by the cleaning company vice president, and also by CDSI's Human resources department:  "wouldn't your prefer to LEAVE!"  Under this official pressure, they did react to the intimidation and they left their jobs at CDSI.  

The perpetrators, seeing that the whole corporate establishment backed them up, continued to harass the female women who worked there.  These women, seeing this result, either left or gave in to the pressure (not surprising if you don't have documents and the ability to feed you children by applying to some other job.)  These victims were single mothers, married women, and girls as young as 15 and 17.  A 17 year old high school girl left the company immediately after this police intervention event.

One married Salvadoran woman office cleaner, who was being severely sexually harassed at the time of the intervention of the cleaning company vice president, apparently gave in to the sexual demands of the cleaning crew assistant manager a day or two after these events.  This assistant cleaning company site manager, after seeing corporate management of both the cleaning company and CDSI back him up,  looked visibly buoyed, happy, and confident that he could sexually harass any female cleaning employee he wanted to.  This Salvadoran woman cleaner, seeing that the author had also been visibly intimidated, knew that she could no longer ask him for help without risking his job at CDSI.  She did not look happy about this situation - at all.

These events occurred in 1993 and 1994.  On May 27, 1994, the author gave a one hour speech to the Montgomery County Women's Commission about these events and the general issue of the lawless sexual exploitation of Latin immigrant women in Montgomery County, MD.

These 20 mostly women commissioners, mostly lawyers, were mostly sympathetic, although some were skeptical.  The one Latina member, a Panamanian born medical doctor and community clinic director, agreed with the author's presentation and conclusions, and also agreed with his assertions that the women and girl victims of this "legalized rape" were contracting HIV/AIDS and this was thus a life and death issue.  A Cherokee woman member of the commission also stood up and thanked the author for his work in this area. 

An official letter of appreciation from the commission chairwoman at the time, Donna Rae Richardson, from June 6, 1994, is available on this web site here.

The Women's Commission said nothing officially, stating that they were an advisory body, but individually, they likely made the proper authorities aware of these events.

After his May 27, 1994 talk, the author closed a contract on his second house on June 10, 1994.  CDSI knew of this through the obvious taps they had on all corporate phones (for example, they cut my phone off every time I spoke with my lawyer about them).  On June 13, 1994 the author was laid off with the rest of his software development team.  There was little warning that this was coming.  the author concluded that this layoff was triggered directly by the Women's Commission's inquiries, given the week of difference between the two events.

All members of the team were placed in other company jobs (CDSI had 4,000 employees then).  the author interviewed at a local CDSI contract site in the U.S. Energy Department, where a relative had previously worked.  Three managers were very eager to hire the author immediately. The corporate headquarters denied his application to work there.  They used the retroactively downgraded employee performance review from just after the scandal/police intervention, as their excuse.

the author once overheard the lead project manager of the 100 programmers in our CDSI (U.S. Housing and Urban Development contract) project team (the manager who attempted to intimidate the author into not calling the police) saying to a fellow Texan programmer, while discussing me and this issue early: "You KNOW what we'd do to him down in Texas!"  This was the project manager who refused to take any action when the cleaning company vice president came into my cubicle and yelled, screamed and pointed his finger in the author's face.

In the end, the author was laid off for over five months from his job at CDSI, where the author had been a hard working employee.  One human resources employee engaged in his harassment stated to the author in a meeting that "As a woman, I respect and admire what you are doing, but as an official of the corporation, I must do my job."  Her "job" was to participate in the corporate retaliation for the author's advocacy for the Latina cleaning women at CDSI. 

Luckily, the author had his part time job in the county Police Department as their PC applications programmer. Between that part time job and his work as a musician he financially survived these terrible events. 

Thanks to the likely actions of individual members of the Montgomery County Women's Commission, and also thanks to CDSI's cold-blooded internal save-its-own-butt mentality, five levels of senior management lost their jobs over this issue.  Three of those five lost their jobs before the author was laid off.  A senior vice president, a junior vice president, the Texan leader of our 100 member U.S. Housing and Urban Development department contract software, team, the leader of his 40 member team (who was only demoted), his successor, and the immediate leader of his 7 member team who retroactively downgraded his performance reviews... except for the manager who was demoted, they were all canned (let go) by CDSI.

The managerial staff let go were not, in the author's opinion, removed as a reprimand for their bad conduct, but because these managers  could not find an effective way to get the author to leave his job through harassment, short of laying-off the whole U.S. HUD contract team.  At one point, the two managers immediately above the author obliged the author to change the hours of his work shift for no practical reason.  As these men knew that the author worked a part-time job in the Montgomery County Police Department, they knew that the author would be forced to quit one job or the other.  Either result would be useful in their efforts to silence the author's victim advocacy.  The effort did not work, as the MCPD allowed the author to adapt his work shift at MCPD headquarters to accommodate the forced shift change at CDSI.

The original rapists (the two cleaning supervisors who were from El Salvador, as were most of their victims) stayed on in their positions at CDSI after the two Latina women victims where forced out of the cleaning company.

The cleaning company, to legally save itself, sold itself to another corporation.  The cleaning company vice president was sent to live in California (the author ran into him in his moving sale, not knowing that he lived two blocks from me during this whole battle!)  He insulted the author under his breath as the author left his house.  During the author's yard-sale visit to his house, the cleaning company vice president asked if the author were still working at CDSI.  The cleaning company vice president expressed visible surprise when he found out that the author had not been fired from CDSI (in retaliation for defending victims of rape and harassment).  The events leading to my layoff  on June 13, 1994 occurred shortly after this chance encounter with the cleaning company vice president at his home.  The Latino men present to help pack and move household items at the moving sale were, as they told the author, employees of the cleaning company.  They stated to the author that the cleaning company vice president had been transferred to California.

The new cleaning company's off-site account manager (a man originally from Spain) had been overheard by the author in the CDSI cafeteria one day promising the two on-site cleaning managers that he would protect them from any "problems."  Shortly afterward, the part-time assistant cleaning crew manager was told to leave that contract, as he  also worked full time for the same company at another location.

One night at CDSI, according to a male Salvadoran friend of the author on this cleaning crew, the new account manager found the on-site cleaning manager occupying the CDSI president's office for sexual purposes with one of his cleaning crew women.

Seeing that his assertions (the author was long since gone) were true, and seeing the risk that proof of these activities existed in support of possible victim's legal action, this new manager fired the head cleaning supervisor.  He then FIRED ALL OF THE CLEANING WORKERS (all were Latin immigrants), for no legitimate reason, only to legally cover his tracks on the firing of the head supervisor.  This was similar in form to CDSI's laying off of it's entire U.S. Department of H.U.D. team two weeks after the author spoke to the Montgomery County Women's Commission.  

The cleaning woman who was found in the CDSI president's office after hours with the cleaning crew manager was not single.  Her wheeled trash container (called a "tambo" in Spanish)  was typically parked outside of the CDSI president's office during her whole shift, while she was behind pass-card secured doors with the cleaning crew manager.  the author had seen her crying at work and with an ashamed face.  The reasons are fairly obvious.  She was being sexually exploited in a quid-pro-quo hostile work environment, and the whole corporate infrastructure bought into it.

CDSI merged with another company and no longer exists as CDSI.

 


Other important points surrounding this case:

* Latin American professional women who were employees at CDSI's headquarters offered to assist the author in fighting the battle with CDSI to win justice for the Latina victims of sexual harassment and assault on the cleaning crew.  the author asked them to not get involved, as they would likely loose their jobs over this issue.  One of them had talked with other CDSI staff who had seen the cleaning company on-site manager engaged in sexually abusing his female workers in an isolated room near CDSI's mainframe computer room (a huge computer room that handled a lot of high-security work for the Pentagon). 

* the author once called the police (MCPD) on a non-emergency number to report the fact that his car had been vandalized in the CDSI parking lot.  The cleaning company on-site assistant manager was standing on a loading dock close by to the author's vehicle when the author had discovered that the door handle had been broken during his work shift in an attempt to break in.  The police operator insisted that this event was no big deal, and he refused to send a patrol officer to check out my complaint of vandalism.

* Also, the author was, at his part time job in the Montgomery County Police Department, once in the presence of one of the MCPD officers who had been present with her five fellow officers on the first night of the "incident" at CDSI.  She called the building manger for CDSI.  After the conversation she warned the author to "watch his back," because CDSI was planning to make the author the focus of attention to protect themselves.

* When the author went to the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission with the two original Latina women who had asked for assistance against the sexual harassment at CDSI, the Hispanic intake officer had gone to a dentist appointment, even though the author had set up an appointment to file formal EEOC complaints against CDSI from these two women workers.  Another case investigator at the MCHRC began to give the victims the complaint forms, and then abruptly said that she was leaving now and would not process the case intake.  She stated, after hearing about the case, that "these women need to unionize."  She was quite sarcastic and had a tired-of-it-all attitude.  The two victims of these incidents, seeing this reaction from the MCHRC, left and never came back again to file a complaint.

* For them, these events were too similar to the types of treatment that women victims face from police and government in El Salvador, their place of birth.

* Shortly after the on-site cleaning supervisor (principal perpetrator of the sexual harassment and assaults) was fired for being "discovered" at CDSI, the author saw him come to Montgomery County's police headquarters building to get a background check done.  He was accompanied by a person who was apparently his manager at a new cleaning job, and he was apparently applying for a work based visa, thus the need for a background check for U.S. INS.  the author related to police officer friends who this guy was.  Without a complaintant, there is no case.  

* All of the details of this case described here above were related verbally by the author to the Montgomery County, Maryland Women's Commission during a one hour presentation on May 27, 1994.

 


Getting victims to file complaints is difficult.  When they see acts of official indifference, apathy, intimidation, anti-immigrant hostility and inaction all around them from police, government and corporations, they simply give up and assume that nothing can be done, and that the fatalism common in Latin America should continue to guide their actions in the U.S.  At that point, they buy into the code of silence that allows these forms of the sexual oppression of women and girls to exist, continue and flourish. 


Additional Information:

* Also during his stay at CDSI, our software team (mostly white men) literally harassed all four programmers from India off of our team through harassment and false poor performance reports.  Our one Chinese woman programmer, from Beijing, was harassed by other programmers when layoff became imminent, because they felt that she was so smart that she could get another job easier than they could.  One of the author's team leaders, a Jewish woman, told the author that she had come to corporate headquarters to work after working on a CDSI contract a the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters, where she encountered daily, open, blatant and crudely racist anti-Semitic remarks from many employees.  CDSI told her essentially to shut up or be fired.

* A niece of a relative of the author, who worked at another CDSI contract at the Federal Energy RegulatoryCommission, was threatened with death by a fellow employee when she refused to date him.  Neither the DC Police nor CDSI helped her, nor would CDSI allow her to move to another work location.

* During this time (1993-1994) a friend, the Hispanic Intake Officer for the county Human Relations Commission, compared notes with me and concluded that it was only a matter of time before open racial conflict developed in Montgomery County, MD. 

* During this time the author also assisted six Latin American immigrant women in bringing complaint cases before the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, who is the local contractor for the federal EEOC.  The four cases in MCHRC's jurisdiction were suppressed in one way or another.  

One case, blatantly supressed after a formal complaint was filed,  involved a situation in which more than a dozen Latina women and teen girl workers had been fired for not giving in sexually to the three on-site cleaning managers at One Central Plaza in Rockville, MD.  One victim was a pregnant Salvadoran woman who was repeatedly subjected to unwanted and aggressive sexual caresses while pregnant, was fired, sent home, and was told to come back to work after her pregnancy (when, it was implied, she could become "sexually useful" to her cleaning supervisors" (see Case #3) on this web site.

 


Needless to say, these event were quite shocking  to all of those involved.