Discrimination on the High Seas

Like any other type of worker, seamen are sometimes sexually harassed or discriminated against in the course of their work. Fortunately, like any other type of worker, seamen who are the victims of discrimination and/or sexual harassment have recourse and may be able to obtain several remedies, including monetary recompense.

Regarding discrimination, employers of seamen are legally not allowed to discriminate against people based on certain traits, including their race, gender, religion, nationality, and so forth, just like in any other job. Discrimination can be things like refusing to hire or promote, firing, or any other type of preferential treatment based on the protected traits. An employer may be liable to a seaman for discriminating based on race, gender, religion, nationality, and so forth, and the available damages may vary greatly depending on the facts surrounding the discrimination. What is more, the discriminating employer may face an investigation and potential punitive fines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sexual harassment is another type of discrimination that sometimes occurs within the maritime industry. Courts have made sure that seamen have recourse for sexual harassment when it occurs. Some courts have allowed seamen to bring sexual harassment lawsuits under the Jones Act, provided that some sort of physical contact and physical injury occurred. Qualifying physical contact can include grabbing, kissing, pulling clothes, and other types of offensive and harassing contact. Qualifying physical injury can include when stress from an incident causes vomiting, weight loss, sexual dysfunction, and the like, as well as more traditional physical harm, although there has to be some physical manifestation of emotional pain and suffering. As an alternative to suing under the Jones Act, seamen may also sue for sexual harassment under unseaworthiness, infliction of emotional distress, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; these legal theories may or may not be applicable, depending on the facts surrounding the harassment. Finally, the seaman who was harassed may be eligible to receive maintenance and cure for psychological injury caused by the harassment.

Finally, seamen are sometimes discriminated against on the basis of disability, such as having an illness, a disfigurement, or a missing body part (e.g., a missing finger). An employer is not supposed to discriminate against a seaman who is disabled if the seaman can otherwise competently perform their duties. Such discrimination is against the Americans with Disabilities Act, and may subject the seaman’s employer to damages. What is more, the employer of a disabled seaman may be required to make reasonable accommodations, such as modifying work facilities.

If you are a seaman and you feel that you have experienced any sort of discrimination or sexual harassment claim, you may wish to contact an experienced offshore injury lawyer and discuss what happened. Discrimination and sexual harassment claims are sometimes difficult to prove, and an attorney can be an invaluable resource in guiding you through the labyrinth of applicable laws and helping you win the compensation that you deserve.


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