10/23/97- Updated 08:22 PM ET

Witnesses: FAA didn't act on harassment

WASHINGTON - Female air traffic controllers complained to Congress on Thursday that sexual harassment and discrimination are pervasive in their male-dominated profession, including crude remarks, fondling and a workplace blue with profanity. Several witnesses before the House Transportation Committee contended that women who complained were treated as disgruntled employees, that their stories were neither believed nor investigated and that they were often subjected to career-damaging retaliation. And they said the resulting increased tension in air traffic towers at airports added a new level of risk to the already high-pressure job of safely guiding aircraft to and from their destinations. Jane Garvey, the new head of the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the air traffic control system in the United States, said sexual harassment will not be tolerated and that new steps will be taken to root it out of a work force that remains about 80% male. Michael McNally, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the FAA had made such promises in the past without changing workplace conditions. "To say we do not trust the FAA on this issue is an understatement," he said. "When the media's glare is on the FAA, the agency puts on its white hat, nods and smiles for the cameras," McNally said, Some of the witnesses are joining a class-action lawsuit against the FAA, claiming sexual discrimination and harassment are commonplace in many FAA control towers and radar facilities. One of them, Jan Gonzales, said she experienced sexual hostility dating from her first week on the job in 1982. Now a controller at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., she said that as recently as last November, while walking up the tower stairs, she heard male colleague shout, "chick alert, chick alert." She said that about 15 minutes later a male colleague unbuttoned his shirt, pushed his breasts together and yelled at the other men, "Do you want to see some cleavage? I'll show you some cleavage." She said supervisors routinely imply that female controllers are inept and permit an atmosphere in which women are asked for sexual favors, are sexually intimidated or have to "become 'one of the guys' to survive." Another witness, Joan Henson, a specialist in Atlanta, said she received five anonymous letters from a "secret admirer" calling her sexy, sensual and voluptuous. Carl W. Reed, a supervisor at the Houston Air Route Traffic Center, said he once saw another supervisor unbutton a female controller's blouse while saying, "Let's see what's in there." He said that had she reacted, "Her career would be over." Ms. Garvey said she intends to change the atmosphere. "My policy on sexual harassment is simple," she said. "I do not and will not tolerate it in any manner." "My job is to make sure that message is communicated to, and understood by, every employee in the FAA work force, and that proper training and guidance exists to reinforce the message."
By The Associated Press
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