For some women employees at the Olean-based bus company known as Blue Bird, a day at work meant a day of disgusting sexual comments, tasteless songs and off-color jokes and cartoons.
Federal investigators said a company dispatcher sometimes used his radio to communicate such hurtful remarks that women bus drivers would pull over to the side of the road, with tears in their eyes.
"And this would happen when these drivers had full bus loads of school kids," said Nora E. Curtin, an attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
But those days are over now, authorities said Wednesday, because the parent company of Blue Bird has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a sexual harassment case filed by the EEOC on behalf of 13 current and former workers.
EEOC spokesman Larry Pincus said the case is believed to be the largest sexual harassment settlement the agency has ever had in Western New York.
Senior U.S. District Judge John T. Elfvin, who approved the settlement, noted that the defendants in the case -- Blue Bird Coach Lines and Coach USA -- have agreed to pay even though they deny the illegal conduct took place.
Coach USA, the nation's largest motor coach company, bought Blue Bird in 1998. Coach USA has agreed to write a new policy for handling sexual harassment issues and run a one-hour training program for its 15,000-plus employees.
"We're going to use this as a learning experience for our entire company," said Jennifer Webster, a Coach USA spokeswoman in Houston. "We're going to institute a new sensitivity program on this issue, through the whole country."
The EEOC's Curtin, who filed the case in Buffalo's federal court, said, "The person responsible for most of this conduct is gone, and from what we've been told, this conduct is no longer going on there."
In court papers, Curtin identified Ronald Magnano, a former company dispatcher, as the person responsible for most of the alleged harassment. She said Ronald Magnano is the son of Louis Magnano, Blue Bird's longtime president.
"I have no comment," said Ronald Magnano, reached at his Olean home. "I have not heard anything from Coach USA. Obviously they made a business decision, and I was not consulted about their decision."
Magnano said he resigned from the buscompany last year to take a different job, but not because of the EEOC's legal action.
EEOC officials said that the alleged conduct took place in the Olean area in 1997, 1998 and 1999, and that some women employees who reported it to superiors were chastised and punished.
Thirteen women, current and former Blue Bird workers, will receive the cash settlements, with the two lead complainants, Cindy Layton and Catherine Brailey, receiving $150,000 each.
Stanley L. Goodman, an attorney for Coach USA, said that Blue Bird's headquarters has been moved from Olean to North Tonawanda.
"We're using this case as an opportunity for our company to move forward, to make sure we have a safe working environment for all our workers," said company spokeswoman Webster.
EEOC officials said they hope the will inspire more local women to come forward.