(NEW YORK) — Two female New York City bus operators claim they were sexually harassed by the same male supervisor, and at one point one says he licked her on the face at work, but they struggled for years with deciding to come forward.
Teresa Garcia said she started working for the city’s Transit Authority as a bus operator in May 1999 and claims this male coworker repeatedly made graphic requests for sex and constantly told lewd sexual jokes about her.
“He would say it in front of other drivers, made it into, like, a big joke, you know, would humiliate me, and say nasty, nasty things,” Garcia said.
Afraid she would lose her job if she complained, Garcia said she kept quiet, but was finally able to transfer to another depot location. But then, 13 years later, she says her harasser showed up again, and this time he had been promoted to dispatcher and was now her supervisor.
One day, she says he became physical with her.
“All of a sudden I had– I felt someone pulling on my hands,” she said. “So when I turn around the dispatcher …. his lips puckered up like he’s going to kiss me, straight on my lips. But I turned my head real fast, and he kissed me on my cheek. The very next day he tried to do it again.”
Garcia said she was horrified and she mentioned it to her union chairperson.
“I said, ‘He is a piece of work,’” Garcia said. “And he says, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a lot of complaints from– you know, that he’s been doing things.”
The other female bus driver, Nancy Jenkins, who has worked for the Transit Authority for over 20 years, said she had encounters with the same supervisor. She said one day he insisted she twirl around and show him her newly braided hair before getting her schedule.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not going do that,’” Jenkins said. “He said, ‘Well, I’m not going give you your trip sheet until you do so.’ So I felt like I had to comply with what he wanted me to do in order to get my work, so I wouldn’t be late. So I lean towards the window, and … he licked me from my chin all the way up to my brow.”
At that moment, Jenkins said she felt humiliated.
“And just, like, time stopped for me,” she said.
She said she reported it to management but felt they were unresponsive, so their union took the complaints public and held a press conference. But afterwards, Jenkins says many coworkers only ramped up their humiliating treatment.
“The day after the press conference, when I reported to work there was a driver who said, ‘Hey Garcia. I saw you on the news last night. That was hilarious,’” Garcia said. “He thought it was a huge joke, and he started laughing. He was at a table with about three or four other drivers.”
Both women say they started buckling under the toxic work environment.
“I never knew what it meant to be broken and they broke me,” Jenkins said. “It got to a point where I was looking for ways to end my own life.”
Eventually Jenkins, Garcia and another female driver sued the Transit Authority in 2013 for $5 million each in compensatory damages for putting them in a hostile work environment. The case is still pending, but their harasser was fired for numerous violations, including sexual harassment and gross misconduct.
A spokesperson for the Transit Authority declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Jenkins said she is haunted by the fact that she waited years to come forward, but she doubted herself for a long time. At times, she said she told her teenage daughter she should have kept quiet so she wouldn’t have to keep dealing with harassment at work but her daughter helped show her it was good to speak out.
“It starts to affect you mentally, physically, and emotionally,” she said. “And I have a lot of guilt, because maybe I could’ve prevented this from happening to her [Jenkins], and to the other woman that came forward.”
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