Maersk sued by cadets over allegations of sexual harassment and assault. The complaints allege that Maersk was aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment on its ships during the US Merchant Marine Academy’s Sea Year program.
Two women filed complaints in a New York state court alleging that Maersk failed to adequately protect them from sexual assault and harassment while working aboard the same ship two years apart.
The first complaint was filed on behalf of Hope Hicks, a current USMMA student who shook up the maritime industry last year when, under the moniker “Midshipman-X,” she publicly described how she was raped by her superior officer while serving as a cadet. of machines. her aboard a Maersk cargo ship. The second complaint was filed on behalf of another USMMA student who goes by the nickname “Midshipman-Y.” According to the complaint, Ella Midshipman-Y was sexually harassed so severely aboard a Maersk ship during Ella’s Year of the Sea that she slept clutching a knife to protect herself from it.
The USMMA Sea Year program requires, as a precondition for graduation, that students work on commercial ships for months to gain hands-on shipboard experience. Maersk and other commercial shipping companies contract with the federal government and receive subsidies in exchange for, among other things, employing USMMA students during their Sea Year.
Hicks’ complaint alleges that she was the only woman on board her assigned Maersk ship during her Sea Year in 2019 and that, while on board, she was raped by one of the ship’s senior officers, a man over 40 years older than her. According to the complaint, when Hicks confronted her officer, she told him no one would believe her if she made a report. According to the complaint, Hicks is suffering from severe and ongoing emotional distress as a result of the traumatic events she experienced on the Maersk vessel.
Midshipman-Y’s complaint alleges that she experienced extreme sexual harassment, unwanted touching and discrimination while on board the same Maersk ship two years later. According to the complaint, Midshipman-Y was severely sexually harassed by a crew member who was known to other Maersk officers and crew members as being violent. Although crew members and officers were reportedly aware of the harassment, no one intervened or reported the misconduct. The complaint further alleges that Midshipman-Y received less favorable treatment than male crew members because of her gender. Driven to desperation, at the earliest opportunity, Midshipman-Y begged USMMA representatives to remove her from the ship before she completed the required time at sea. As a result of her traumatic experience, her Midshipman-Y had to suffer an academic setback and she is not sure if she will ever be emotionally capable of completing the USMMA.
According to both complaints, Maersk was aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment on its ships. Specifically, US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx suspended the Sea Year program in 2016 amid allegations of rampant sexual assault and harassment of cadets during Sea Year voyages. Once reinstated, the regulations required Maersk and other shipping companies participating in the Sea Year program to enact and enforce procedures to protect against sexual assault and harassment by USMMA midshipmen aboard their vessels.
“What happened to Hope and Midshipman-Y was foreseeable and avoidable on Maersk’s part,” said Steven J. Kelly, a partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp and an attorney for the plaintiffs. “Maersk recognized that it has a special duty of care to USMMA cadets, but even after the Sea Year program was reinstated in 2017, Maersk failed to implement and enforce adequate policies and procedures to protect these young women.”
The complaint alleges that even after the temporary suspension of the Sea Year program in 2016, Maersk was complacent about its duties to prevent sexual harassment and assault. According to the complaint, Maersk’s disregard for their duties was evident when Hicks was tasked by one of Hicks’ Maersk supervisors to log on to a computer and complete required sexual harassment and assault training on behalf of other crew members. Following the publication of the Midshipman-X story, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg again suspended the Sea Year program in November 2021.
“Speaking out against a powerful corporation is intimidating, which is why, to this point, Hope has refused to reveal her identity, opting instead to use the moniker Midshipman-X,” said Christine Dunn, partner at Sanford Heisler. Sharp and advisor. for the plaintiffs. “But today, Hope is publicly identifying herself in an effort to seek justice for the sexual assault and harassment she and others, like Midshipman-Y, suffered aboard Maersk vessels.”
Ryan Melogy, founder of Maritime Legal Solutions and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, who is a USMMA graduate, noted that “For years there have been reports of widespread sexual harassment and assault in the maritime industry, but nothing has changed. Now, real change may finally be on the way thanks to the bravery of survivors like Hope and Midshipman-Y. These brave young women stand up, speak up and say “this has got to end!”
The complaints assert that Maersk’s conduct violates the Jones Act because the plaintiffs’ injuries were directly caused by Maersk’s negligence and failure to provide a seaworthy vessel. The Hicks complaint also alleges a violation of the New York Human Rights Law, while the Midshipman-Y complaint alleges violations of the New York Human Rights Law and Title VII. The complaints call for a jury trial.
About Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP
Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP is a national public interest class action litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville and Baltimore. Sanford Heisler Sharp focuses on employment discrimination, Title IX, wage and hour, whistleblowers, criminal/sexual violence, and financial services issues. The firm has recovered over a billion dollars for its clients through many verdicts and settlements. The National Law Journal recognized Sanford Heisler Sharp as the 2021 Labor Rights Firm of the Year and the 2021 Human Rights Firm of the Year.