Women claim sexual harassment pervasive in New York City construction industry

NEW YORK (WABC) -- When Ashley Foster walked onto a construction site for the first time four years ago, she knew as a woman it would be tough. But she had no idea exactly how tough.

"I just rolled with the punches," said a teary-eyed Foster, speaking about the daily sexual harassment she claims went on at construction sites throughout the city. "They would follow you around. They would text you. They would show you pictures of their penis."

But sometimes, it wasn't just a picture. Foster said that twice, a foreman at the Hudson Yards job site exposed himself to her.

"He was, like, leaning up against the table with his penis in his hand, and I was already at the door," she said. "And I turned around and looked at him, and was like, 'Oh no, we're not doing this,' and I walked out."

Tierra Williams also says from the first day she entered a work site as a hoist operator, she realized women were treated differently.

"It was basically like I was a hot commodity," she said.

Williams said one of her foremen would routinely stand post outside the bathroom to watch her go in and out.

"He told me he was watching me because I was sexy," she said. "I said, 'You can't do that, it's a form of harassment. You are stalking me.'"

In another account, Williams said a foreman made sexist comments.

"He would say, 'You're not suppose to be here,'" she said. "'You should be home making chicken and rice and waiting for him in bed.'"

Both Williams and Foster claim they tried to make complaints to their employer, Trade Off Construction, but say they were ignored. Williams was eventually fired for theft of time, which she says were made-up charges as retribution for her complaints.

Three days ago, she and Foster filed a discrimination complaint with the state's Division of Human Rights. Jason Solotaroff is their attorney.

"The things my clients have described are things that would not be accepted in any industry," he said. "In construction I don't think anyone even thinks there's anything wrong with it."

A spokesman for Trade Off responded to Eyewitness News.

"We are currently investigating the allegations," Brian Krapf said. "(The company has) a zero tolerance policy and takes any charge of sexual harassment very seriously...All workers who ha(ve) concerns are encouraged to speak with human resources."

Foster and Williams claim they did try to speak up, but that sexual harassment seemed an acceptable part of the construction culture.

"They were just like, they could do whatever," Foster said. "What would be the consequences?"

Trade Off says that Foster remains employed at the company and that she even appeared in a promotional video for Trade Off. Foster's attorney said she felt that refusing to do the video may jeopardize her future with the company.


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