Workers win: Charges dropped against former warehouse employees; suit settled
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com March 6, 2013 10:04PM
Manhattan resident Priscilla Marshall was an 18-year-old warehouse worker when she reported that she was sexually harassed and abused by a boss to the Elwood Police Department in August 2010. Warehouse supervisors claimed Marshall and three family members were running a theft ring and all were fired. Marshall is seen Thursday, March 15, 2012, in Manhattan. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 8, 2013 7:44AM
Four Elwood warehouse workers who were fired and charged with theft after one of them reported being sexually harassed at work have had the criminal charges against them dropped.
Also, the workers settled a federal class action lawsuit they filed against Partners Warehouse after they were fired and arrested. The terms of the settlement are confidential.
“I feel like a it’s a big relief,” said Priscilla Marshall, 21, who was at the center of the case. “It’s like a bunch of stuff off my shoulders. I’m happy.”
Even though she lost her job and was arrested after she complained about sexual harassment, Marshall said it was worth it.
“I think I did the right thing,” she said. “By coming forward it shows other people to come forward, too, if something happens.”
Marshall was 18 in August 2010 when she told Elwood police she was being sexually harassed by a boss at Partners Warehouse at 26634 Center Point Drive.
She said a supervisor slapped her buttocks, pinched her breasts and he was harassing other female employees. He also coerced her into having sex using threats of termination, Marshall told police.
After the report, Partners Warehouse filed its own complaint with Elwood police charging the employees with felony theft. Marshall; her mother, Sandra Hernandez; her uncle, Henry Saldivar; and Aaron Morales-Bahena were all fired and subsequently arrested. Marshall also was charged with filing a false police report, and Hernandez faced forgery charges.
All of the charges were dropped by the state’s attorney’s office on March 1 after a lengthy internal review of the case, spokesman Charles Pelkie said.
All witnesses were re-interviewed and evidence was re-examined, he said. Also, two bilingual assistant state’s attorneys were assigned to the case.
“We had probable cause to file those charges, but in the end, a number of issues arose during our internal review of the case,” he said.
Worker group got involved
The review came after the employees sought help from Warehouse Workers for Justice, a Joliet-based group pushing for improved working conditions in area warehouses.
WWJ announced the resolution to the criminal and civil court cases on Wednesday.
“We’ve always maintained we were innocent of the allegations made against us,” the group said in a joint statement released by their attorney, Chris Williams. “And we feel vindicated by the state’s attorney’s decision not to move forward with the criminal case.”
WWJ officials said all along that Marshall and the people who supported her were arrested in retaliation for their claims of sexual harassment in the warehouse.
“Instead of taking the case seriously, the police jailed the victim of the crime and pursued the company’s false charges against the victim and her witnesses,” WWJ organizer Mark Meinster said in a news release.
The civil lawsuit filed in November 2011 by the fired workers claimed the arrests were an attempt by the warehouse bosses to cover up sexual harassment at the business. The lawsuit also claimed female Hispanic employees were systematically harassed by one of their superiors. The lawsuit sought compensation for the harassment the workers endured and the loss of income they experienced after being fired.
No charges ever were filed against supervisors at Partners Warehouse.
Partners Warehouse president Craig Sesemann said on Wednesday that he could not comment on the civil lawsuit because the settlement was confidential. As for the criminal charges being dropped against the workers, “That’s the state’s attorney’s decision,” he said.