Workplace Discrimination and Harassment of Mariners

If you are a mariner who has experienced discrimination, harassment, racism, sexism, a hostile work environment, or any other type of actionable discrimination at sea, you are not alone. The maritime industry is known for its unique and often harsh working conditions and environment, especially when compared to land-based work. But maritime employers are subjected to the same anti-discrimination laws as land-based employers, and that gives many working mariners legal relief that they may not be aware of. 

While culturally, the maritime industry has traditionally turned a blind eye to discrimination and harassment, legally employers have obligations to address and correct the issues. When they fail to do so, workers can take steps to enforce their legal rights and seek compensation and other remedies.

Relief Under Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. §2000e) is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Employers, including maritime employers, with more than 15 employees are subject to this law. Subsequent laws expanded the classes of protected individuals to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and related conditions, age over 40, disability, and genetic information. Courts have interpreted the prohibition against sex discrimination to also include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Under Title VII, employers can be held liable when managing employees take adverse employment actions against an employee on the basis of one of the protected factors. This includes failing to hire or promote on the basis of a protected factor as well as less obvious adverse actions, such as reassigning an employee to a less prestigious position. 

In addition, when an employer tolerates a work environment that is hostile to an employee on the basis of sex, religion, race, or other protected factors, employees also have the right to legal relief. A hostile work environment has been defined as a situation where an employee was subjected to unwelcome conduct that was so sufficiently severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of employment.

An employer can be held responsible for the actions of its supervisors (like captains and mates) and even fellow crew members if the employer had reason to know of the discriminatory behavior and failed to act to stop it.

Lawsuit Seeking Relief for a Cook Harassed on the Basis of Race and Sex

Latti & Anderson LLP recently filed a lawsuit against a large tug operator, alleging that the tug operator violated Title VII. Specifically, the claims include race-based and sex-based harassment that created a hostile work environment.

In this case, the plaintiff, who was the cook on a tug, was the only woman and only Black person of the 9-person crew. She endured severe and constant harassment from the captain, mates, and crew that ultimately caused her to leave her job. Although mere teasing or joking does not typically rise to the level of harassment under the law, in this case, the plaintiff was subjected to threats, racist stereotypes, racist slurs, and offensive jokes that were sufficient to present a claim for harassment. 

Adding to the complexity of this case, the cook who was subjected to harassment also sustained personal injuries due to negligence and unseaworthiness of the vessel. So in this lawsuit, the Title VII harassment claims are alleged in addition to negligence claims under the Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claims under general maritime law.

Latti & Anderson Can Help You Stand Up to Harassment at Sea

If you believe that you are being discriminated against, harassed, or subjected to a hostile work environment based on your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or other protected factors, the experienced team at Latti & Anderson LLP is ready to assist. Our firm helps mariners recover the compensation they deserve after they suffer harm, harassment, or discrimination on the job. If you have a situation you’d like to discuss, contact us for a free confidential case evaluation.