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Former employee accuses Shedd Aquarium of sexual discrimination

Susan Catherine Edgerton alleges in a federal lawsuit that she was subjected to inappropriate comments, extra duties and double standards while working as the hospitality coordinator aboard the aquarium’s research boat.

The Shedd Aquarium’s Coral Reef II research ship.
Susan Catherine Edgerton is suing Shedd Aquarium over alleged sexual discrimination while she worked aboard the Coral Reef II.
Shedd Aquarium

A woman who worked aboard the Shedd Aquarium’s research vessel has sued the aquarium for sexual discrimination.

Susan Catherine Edgerton alleges in a federal lawsuit that she experienced sexism and was subjected to inappropriate comments, extra duties and double standards while working as the hospitality coordinator aboard the Coral Reef II.

The 80-foot Coral Reef II is used as a basecamp and laboratory for Shedd Aquarium field researchers. It is based in Miami and travels along the Bahamian archipelago, allowing scientists to conduct open-water studies.

Each year the boat takes college and high school students from the Chicago area to the Bahamas to study reef and island ecology.

Edgerton, of North Carolina, was hired in April 2018 to oversee food service, housing and hotel operations on the boat and help with its departure, arrival and maintenance. She was the first female crewmember hired to work on the Coral Reef II.

She was fired in May 2019 without being given a reason, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago.

“This is one of many examples of a very male-dominated industry that my client had a really bad experience in with respect to her gender, and her treatment as a woman was really sexist and inappropriate,” said Jennifer Salvatore, a partner at Salvatore Prescott Porter & Porter.

Edgerton alleges her male co-workers used derogatory words like “b——” when referring to women. They also allegedly commented about her appearance. Edgerton alleges she was disciplined for her dress while a male coworker wasn’t for the same infraction.

The lawsuit says Edgerton was injured when she was ordered to jump from the deck to the concrete dock 15 feet below and help anchor the boat. She wasn’t allowed to seek medical attention for three days and needed to take off several months, the lawsuit states.

In an email, the Shedd Aquarium said it cannot comment on pending litigation but takes “all allegations of this nature seriously.”

“For decades, Shedd Aquarium has adhered to and acted upon its rigorous policies and procedures related to harassment and discrimination,” the aquarium said “Moreover, we also perform annual prevention training for all employees. We do not tolerate conduct inconsistent with these policies and our values, including aboard our research vessel.”