United Parcel Service has been hit hard in a sexual harassment lawsuit. After years of refusing to address multiple allegations that its Shrewsbury, Massachusetts warehouse is run amok with abusive supervisors who lack even a fundamental understanding of discrimination laws, the company will now pay dearly. It was not only ordered to pay $50,000 in damages to Thomas Sobocinski — a figure that ballooned to more than $125,000 with interest and legal fees — but now must train hundreds of supervisors across Massachusetts on the basics of sexual harassment and discrimination law. The training order alone will likely cost UPS hundreds of thousands of dollars.
To those familiar with UPS’s approach to manager/employee relations, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination judgment is no suprise. UPS is reputed to run roughshod over its workers and punish those who dare to complain. Its Shrewsbury, Massachusetts warehouse, where Mr. Sobocinski works, is rife with abusive and sexually explicit language, as described by UPS managers themselves. Despite broad training on internal UPS systems, managers there are not taught about discrimination laws or held accountable for violating them. The result is broad anecdotal evidence of abuse by management that may have persisted for decades.
Amid this backdrop, Mr. Sobocinski was unusual in coming forward. In his 2004 lawsuit (which I handled as his attorney), he steadfastly demanded that that UPS discipline supervisor Russell Ford, who made lewd sexual remarks and gestures toward him at work. Mr. Ford was accused by other UPS employees of sexual misconduct, but UPS has done nothing in reply. Mr. Sobocinski’s internal complaints to Mr. Ford’s superiors, Ronald Petro and Ronald Draper, were ignored. When he complained to UPS corporate, it sent an untrained human resources employee to investigate. Despite substantive support for Mr. Sobocinski’s allegations that Mr. Ford discussed anal sex at work and touched both men and women in sexual ways, the investigator did nothing. At the MCAD hearing, UPS managers admitted using improper sexual language at work. One former manager said that Mr. Draper targeted and fired a female employee, Julie Brown, because she complained about Mr. Ford. Another said under oath at a deposition that abusive language was common at UPS. Even UPS’s discrimination investigator got into the act. He compared, incredibly, a supposed use of the “N” word by Black Americans to the types of language that is commonly heard at UPS’s Shrewsbury, Massachusetts facility.
The MCAD’s order that UPS train its Massachusetts managers in harassment and other areas of discrimination law likely flowed from this evidence. Though UPS is not challenging Mr. Sobocinski’s judgment, it is appealing the training order, which requires a six-hour session on anti-discrimination laws for all Massachusetts managers, among other things. Mr. Sobocinski opposes the appeal and believes the MCAD’s order is fully justified. Meanwhile, UPS continues to employ Mr. Ford as a supervisor in its Shrewsbury warehouse. He is facing at least two other active discrimination lawsuits concerning his workplace behaviors.