Maersk Settles Second Sexual Harassment Lawsuit by USMMA Midshipman
Maersk settled the second of two sexual assault cases brought against its U.S. subsidiary Maersk Line Limited by a midshipman at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. News of the agreement between the plaintiff and the shipping company came just days after the company also announced an agreement with Hope Hicks, a U.S. Merchant Marine midshipman who provided a detailed account of her experiences during her Sea Year to call attention to the working environment aboard ships.
“Midshipman Y and Maersk Line, Limited have reached a confidential agreement in her litigation against the company. Out of respect to Midshipman Y’s request for anonymity, both sides agree that no details or statements on the resolution will be made public,” the company and lawyers for the plaintiff said in response to inquiries about the settlement.
Both Hope Hicks, who had published her account of the events under the moniker Midshipman X, and the second plaintiff who chose to remain anonymous and known only as Midshipman Y filed suit against Maersk Line Limited in June 2021 alleging that Maersk failed to adequately protect the midshipmen from sexual assault and sexual harassment while working aboard Maersk ships as part of the USMMA’s Sea Year program.
Midshipman Y alleged that she experienced extreme sexual harassment, unwanted touching, and discrimination while on board the Alliance Fairfax, a Ro-Ro vehicle ship, more than a year after Hicks reported that she was first harassed and later raped by an officer aboard the same ship. The second cadet stated in her complaint that the situation aboard the ship was so bad that at the first opportunity, Midshipman Y begged USMMA representatives to get her off the ship prior to the completion of her required sea time. She later paused her academic work saying she was unsure if she will be emotionally capable of completing her education at the USMMA.
According to the law firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, which together with Maritime Legal Solutions filed the two cases in New York state court, Maersk Line was aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment on its ships. They argued that Maersk was complacent about its sexual assault and harassment prevention duties.
According to the complaint filed in June 2021, Midshipman Y was severely sexually harassed by a crewmember who was known to other Maersk officers and crewmembers as being violent. Although crewmembers and officers were allegedly aware of the harassment, no one intervened or reported the misconduct. The complaint further alleged that Midshipman Y was treated less favorably than male crewmembers on account of her gender.
After the news on November 17 of the settlement with Hicks, Maersk CEO Søren Skou told the Danish newspaper Finans, "The settlement is best for her and for everyone. We want to learn from the case,” he said while saying the company was “in no way out to question” the accounts of what happened.
Skou said it was management’s responsibility to provide a good working environment on the ships. Maersk Line reported that in response to these cases it has initiated a full program of training, reporting, and accountability internally, and is working externally with all industry stakeholders, including its industry partners, labor unions, the Maritime Administration, the maritime academies, and the U.S. Coast Guard.