MARTA brushed off her sexual harassment complaints. Now it settles with her for $575K

Former MARTA employee Shyanne Lord sued the agency in 2019 claiming that while she worked at the Laredeo Drive bus garage, pictured here, she endured sexual harassment from co-worker Ayodele Adenrele on a near-daily basis. After she lodged a formal complaint, she said MARTA discounted her claims and retaliated by transferring her to a less-desirable garage. The case has been settled for $575,000. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Former MARTA employee Shyanne Lord sued the agency in 2019 claiming that while she worked at the Laredeo Drive bus garage, pictured here, she endured sexual harassment from co-worker Ayodele Adenrele on a near-daily basis. After she lodged a formal complaint, she said MARTA discounted her claims and retaliated by transferring her to a less-desirable garage. The case has been settled for $575,000. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The case was spotlighted in an AJC investigation that found nearly all harassment claims rejected

Shyanne Lord said she became so desperate during her ordeal at MARTA’s Laredo garage, at one point she looked up the MARTA CEO’s cellphone number in an agency directory and begged for help.

According to her federal lawsuit, Lord, a low-ranking bus maintenance worker, told then-interim CEO Elizabeth O’Neill she was being relentlessly sexually harassed on the job by a male co-worker, but that an internal investigation into her complaints was stacked against her.

The call made little difference, records reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed. Despite a mountain of evidence pointing to her credibility — including two other women coming forward to say the same man made crude passes at them and two male co-workers attesting to the man’s inappropriate behavior toward women — it was Lord who suffered repercussions.

ExploreFrom 2020: Despite #MeToo movement, MARTA rejects almost all sexual harassment claims

“No one was taking it serious,” Lord told the AJC in 2019. “No one was willing to intervene.”

That stance now has taxpayers on the hook. Last month O’Neill, in her role as the transit agency’s chief attorney, signed an agreement to settle Lord’s lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and retaliation for $575,000.

The sum may be MARTA’s largest payout ever for a sexual harassment claim, eclipsing the $145,000 paid to settle in 2017 with a former dispatcher who alleged she was bullied into quitting after complaining that a co-worker had masturbated in front of her.

ExploreFrom 2019: After discounting harassment claims for years, MARTA fires its CFO

Shyanne Lord’s case was spotlighted in an AJC investigation published last year that examined more than two dozen internal sexual harassment complaints filed by MARTA employees over the previous three years. The AJC found investigations not completed and only one case out of 26 where the agency substantiated a claim — a case where the incident was caught on a security camera. Most cases ended similarly to Lord’s, with women coming forward only to be discounted.

Legal experts who reviewed case files said MARTA appeared to be approaching investigations in the wrong way, seeking irrefutable proof of harassment instead of making credibility determinations as to who’s more likely telling the truth.

The agency says it has since made reforms.

In her federal lawsuit, former MARTA employee Shyanne Lord described her co-worker, Ayodele Adenrele, following her to her car at the Laredo Drive bus facility, pictured here. She said one time he rubbed his crotch against her backside, moaning, as she struggled to get in and close the door. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
In her federal lawsuit, former MARTA employee Shyanne Lord described her co-worker, Ayodele Adenrele, following her to her car at the Laredo Drive bus facility, pictured here. She said one time he rubbed his crotch against her backside, moaning, as she struggled to get in and close the door. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“As you are aware, the investigation into the Lord case occurred during a period of leadership in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion in which claims were not handled to current standards,” an agency spokeswoman said in a written statement Tuesday. “MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker has instituted new procedures regarding how sexual harassment claims are investigated, along with new training protocols aimed at making employees feel safe and supported when reporting an incident.”

Lord worked at the garage near Avondale Estates as a “hostler,” cleaning and refueling buses as they came off their routes. She said she told her supervisors repeatedly that a fellow hostler, Ayodele Adenrele, was hounding her for sex on a near-daily basis, eying her up and down, grabbing his crotch or licking his lips, asking how much she would charge for a tryst and following her to her car after clock-out in the pre-dawn dark, terrifying her.

Lord told the AJC she complained to multiple supervisors and superintendents, but none did anything to stop the harassment.

“In bus maintenance, it’s a male-dominated environment,” Lord told the AJC in 2019. “It’s a man’s world, it’s a boy’s club. Things are funny. Jokes about females are funny.”

Several of his co-workers, male and female, told their bosses that Ayodele Adenrele was making crude propositions to women and being belligerent on the job, according to MARTA records reviewed by the AJC. After initially handing him minor discipline and keeping him posted at the same garage, MARTA suspended him following an AJC article describing the case, then fired him this past January. This employee photo was provided by MARTA under an Open Records Act request. (Special)
Several of his co-workers, male and female, told their bosses that Ayodele Adenrele was making crude propositions to women and being belligerent on the job, according to MARTA records reviewed by the AJC. After initially handing him minor discipline and keeping him posted at the same garage, MARTA suspended him following an AJC article describing the case, then fired him this past January. This employee photo was provided by MARTA under an Open Records Act request. (Special)

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

She filed a written complaint in mid-2017, alleging that Adenrele slipped on board a bus with her, reached between her legs and groped her inner thigh. That prompted both MARTA’s diversity and inclusion and employee relations offices to look into her claims. The agency’s official findings, though, seized on the fact that surveillance footage from the bus where the alleged groping happened couldn’t be retrieved, concluding there was insufficient evidence of sexual harassment because there were no witnesses.

Found only to have violated MARTA’s standards of conduct and workplace violence policies for allegedly verbally abusing other co-workers, Adenrele received a suspension — served while he was on leave during the investigation — and an order to attend diversity and sensitivity training. He kept his job. Because Lord refused to work with him, she said she wound up transferred to a less-desirable position at a more distant garage, where she suffered an injury that put her out on worker’s compensation in 2018. As part of the settlement, she agreed to resign her employment.

“In bus maintenance, it's a male-dominated environment. It's a man's world, it's a boy's club."

- Shyanne Lord

After the AJC story published, MARTA removed Adenrele from the workplace in February 2020, according to a spokeswoman. He was fired this past January, the month the MARTA board voted to approve the settlement. Contacted by phone this week, Adenrele declined to discuss the case.

Lord’s attorney, Steven Wolfe of Legare, Attwood & Wolfe, also declined to comment. The settlement includes a confidentiality clause.

Lord’s portion of the settlement is $320,000 with the remainder paying attorneys’ fees and expenses, according to the signed agreement obtained by Channel 2 Action News through an open records request.

Within a month of the AJC publishing its findings, the man who had previously served as MARTA’s director of diversity and inclusion resigned as executive director of Louisville, Ky.’s transit agency following allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct there.

During his time at MARTA, Ferdinand Risco Jr.’s responsibilities had included overseeing investigations of sexual harassment complaints. He had served in that role from 2012 to 2017, including part of the time period examined by the AJC.

Risco’s MARTA personnel file had no accusations of sexual harassment or other misconduct.

OUR REPORTING

In articles from 2018 to 2020, AJC reporters revealed how Georgia state government often failed employees who reported sexual harassment. The articles prompted Gov. Brian Kemp to enact changes meant to ensure that those who come forward are treated fairly. Amid that work, the AJC also examined harassment complaints within MARTA, which doesn’t fall under Kemp’s direct authority. A review of more than two dozen files revealed that employees’ complaints were rarely substantiated. Today’s article describes the resolution of one of the starkest examples detailed in the AJC’s investigation — the agency’s poor handling of the Shyanne Lord case.

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