The city discriminated against female bridge painters by hiring only men and letting them operate like a "boys club" where lewd sexual images and cartoons were displayed at their lockers, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Judge William H. Pauley III made the ruling in a discrimination lawsuit the U.S. government brought against the city and its Department of Transportation. He said the city rejected women with more experience as painters than men who were hired.
"The evidence adduced at trial reveals a municipal division in America's largest city that refuses to hire women, in spite of societal norms, sound business practice, and city, state, and federal law," he said. "This was unvarnished sex discrimination."
The federal government had recommended that the court force the city to change its practices, hire four women who had applied for jobs as painters but were rejected and give them back pay.
The judge said the relief sounded appropriate but he withheld final judgment on the penalty until a hearing later in the month.
The city said it was disappointed with the ruling and will consider an appeal.
The judge said it was obvious to the city in spring 1999 that certain male bridge painters would not welcome women to their job sites when a female supervisor found sexually explicit materials at a Brooklyn trailer that had lockers used by male painters.
Pauley said the supervisor issued a memo at the time reminding male bridge painters not to keep "dolls, sexual photographs, cartoons or drawings" in the workplace. Afterward, he noted, the supervisor received threats from painters telling her to watch her back.
"The government showed that the bridge painters resisted hiring or promoting female workers to preserve a de facto boys club in which lewd sexual images and cartoons were frequently displayed and employees disparaged their female supervisor, apparently without consequences," the judge wrote.
Pauley said the case proceeded without statistical evidence "other than the elephant in the room" — the fact the city had never hired a female bridge painter for its staff of about 40 in-house painters.
The Bridge Painter Section, as it is known, is responsible for working with private contractors to paint iron and steel structures, both large and small.
City attorney Georgia Pestana said the city and its Department of Transportation deny they have discriminated against women in their hiring practices.
"We are disappointed with the court's findings and ruling, and will be considering our options after more careful review of the decision," Pestana said.