OAKLAND, Maine — A former employee at a T-Mobile call center in Maine says the company threatened to fire her unless she remained silent after complaining that she was sexually harassed on the job.
A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled this summer that T-Mobile violated federal law, and now the former employee plans to file a suit in the case.
Meanwhile, labor groups say T-Mobile's policies continue to put other employees at risk, and are calling on the company to change its practices.
Angela Agganis worked at the T-Mobile call center in Oakland for almost eight years. She says she started to have a problem with a new supervisor last year.
"This particular supervisor touched me multiple times in inappropriate ways," she says.
Agganis says she started to have panic attacks, and that an online search revealed the supervisor had a past history of similar behavior.
After enduring the harassment for five months, she says she went to her HR director, who — according to Agganis — offered to assign her to a different supervisor. Agganis says she told the director she didn't feel safe with the supervisor working in the same building. She asked that he be suspended while the company investigated.
"I was told that's not how it works, and oh, by the way, you just need to sign this form real quick," she says. "It was a form stating that if I were to talk about my experience to my coworkers, I would be fired. I signed it, and then resigned."
That was in August 2014. Agganis' case was later brought before a National Labor Relations Board judge who ruled this past August that T-Mobile's policy that prohibits employees from discussing complaints or face discipline — including termination — violates federal labor law.
"The instinct of HR should not be to threaten the victim with discipline," says Tim Dubnau, organizing coordinator for District 1 for CWA, the Communications Workers of America. "Under the National Labor Relations Act, workers have the right to discuss their terms and conditions of employment at work. They can say to their co workers, 'Hey we're underpaid. Hey, the break room is too cold. Hey, I'm being sexually harassed by this supervisor — is that happening to you too?'"
T-Mobile employees in Maine are not unionized, but labor groups such as CWA and the Maine AFL-CIO held a press conference outside the Oakland call center on Tuesday to rally support for Agganis.
Matt Scholobom of the Maine AFL-CIO says the company should rescind its illegal confidentiality policies, as ordered by the administrative law judge, who also ruled on a similar case at a T-mobile office in South Carolina.
"The company has been found guilty in two cases in last 12 months yet it continues to ignore those rulings, and it continues to push policies that fundamentally silence workers." Scholobom says.
A spokeswoman for T-Mobile says the company no longer uses a written confidentiality agreement in sexual harassment claims, but may make verbal requests depending on the case.
In a written statement, Annie Garrigan defended T-Mobile's previous use of the agreement. She says the company interpreted guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that confidentiality is key to maintain integrity in sexual harassment investigations.
Regardless, Agganis' lawyer Allison Gray says her client will file suit in federal court this week against T-Mobile, alleging that the company subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender.
"What we feel is she should have been taken seriously, and instead she was silenced," Gray says. "And that practice violates her civil rights."
Agganis says she's bringing suit, in part, to be a voice for those who may not feel empowered to do so.