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Judge Rules Sex Trafficking Lawsuit Against Crowley Can Move Forward

Mike Schuler
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January 12, 2023

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that a sex trafficking and forced labor lawsuit against Jacksonville-based Crowley can proceed.

The judge also granted Crowley’s motion to dismiss five of seven counts against Crowley alleged in an amended complaint.

The lawsuit was filed last year by plaintiff Vanessa Treminio, who worked for Crowley in the company’s San Salvador office in El Salvador. She is being represented by maritime attorney Adria Notari, a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and Ryan Melogy of Maritime Legal Solutions, PLLC?, who also represented represented Hope Hicks, aka “Midshipman-X“, and a second U.S. Merchant Marine Academy student in their sexual assault civil cases against Maersk. Melogy runs the website MaritimeLegalAid.com, which first published Midshipman X’s essay that set off a “me too” movement of sorts in the maritime industry.

Treminio’s complaint alleges that in 2017 she was sexually assaulted at Crowley’s San Salvador offices by her new supervisor, co-defendant Juan Emilio Blanco, who had been previously accused by multiple women of workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault. According to her complaint, when Treminio immediately reported the sexual assault to Crowley human resources, she was threatened to stay silent and told that she would still need to travel to Jacksonville, Florida on a business trip with the supervisor who sexually assaulted her or face termination.

It was on that business trip that the supervisor fraudulently gained access to Treminio’s room and forcibly raped her, the complaint alleges. When Treminio went to report the incident at Crowley headquarters in Jacksonville, senior Crowley employees told her to “shut up,” according to the complaint.

Her complaint alleges that shortly afterwards she again reported the incident to Crowley’s Vice President of Ethics and Compliance who later informed her that the supervisor had been fired along with two others, but she was also told to stay quiet about the incident and was never offered any form of mental health, medical, or financial assistance to help with her recovery. Treminio was eventually fired from Crowley in January 2021 under the pretense of poor work performance and she was offered $600 in exchange for signing a settlement and confidentiality agreement, which she refused, the complaint alleges. She also accuses Crowley of withholding her final paycheck and threatening her with legal action for her social media posts about her experiences.

In response to gCaptain’s request for comment, Crowley issued the following statement:

“At Crowley, we are committed to the safety and welfare of our people and to creating a safe and respectful work environment.

“We have zero-tolerance for sexual misconduct of any kind. Along with our code of conduct and policies and procedures around sexual assault, harassment, and retaliation, we provide regular employee online and in-person trainings to educate and protect our workforce and to reinforce our commitment to a safe and respectful workplace.

“While we take allegations of sexual assault seriously and especially the disturbing ones in this case, we will vigorously defend ourselves against the lawsuit asserting that Crowley engaged in sex and labor trafficking as false and without merit.”

In ruling that the lawsuit can proceed, U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard, granted Crowley’s motion to dismiss five counts of negligence, negligent supervision and retention, negligent misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress, respectively.

Blanco faces three counts of sex trafficking, sexual battery and false imprisonment. His motion to dismiss was denied in full.

The case is VANESSA TREMINIO vs. CROWLEY MARITIME CORPORATION and JUAN EMILIO BLANCO Case No. 3:22-cv-174-MMH-PDB

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