Latina Worker at Washington Vineyard Verbally and Physically Mistreated, Federal Agency Charges
SEATTLE — An Eastern Washington winery, La Pianta L.C.C., doing business as Frenchman Hills Vineyard, violated federal law when its vineyard manager sexually harassed a female worker employed at its facility in Othello, Wash., the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. This is the federal agency’s second case filed this year charging sexual harassment against Pacific Northwest agricultural employers.
According to the EEOC’s investigation, a Latina employee was targeted by the sole and highest-level manager at the farm for sexual harassment. He repeatedly isolated and intimidated her, and subjected her to intimate questions about her personal life, crude comments about her body, propositions and touching, the EEOC said. As the nature of the sexual harassment escalated, the worker felt the situation was so intolerable that she was forced to quit.
The worker, a 31-year-old mother of five children, explained that she had been desperate to find work. “I wanted to keep my job, I wanted to do my work and be left alone,” she said. “But the fears and tension followed me home. And it got to the point where I did not feel safe at work.”
Sexual harassment and constructive terminations (i.e., forced resignations) resulting from the harassment violate Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (EEOC v..La Pianta L.L.C dba Frenchman Hills Vineyard . (CV-09-1157-AC) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court. The worker will be represented in the lawsuit by the Northwest Justice Project, which is a partner in the AMPARO Project to empower farmworker women to be free from sexual harassment. The EEOC seeks monetary damages on behalf of the worker, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site, and other injunctive relief.
EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “We have found that throughout the country, women working in agriculture are often particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. We hope that lawsuits such as this one will send notice to employers in this industry to end predatory sexual behavior and abuses of supervisory power.”
EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado added, “This employer failed to properly train its employees in order to protect against this sort of worker abuse. The EEOC will continue to focus on finding new and better ways to reach the most vulnerable discrimination victims, like farm workers, in order to halt this kind of illegal treatment."
Earlier this year in June, EEOC filed a lawsuit against Willamette Tree Wholesale, Inc. located in Molalla, Ore., alleging that Latina workers there were sexually harassed, threatened, and in one case, repeatedly raped. Also, this August, Wilcox Farms, which operates dairy and egg production facilities in Oregon and Washington, agreed to pay $260,000 to a female worker at its Aurora, Ore., facility and provide remedial relief to settle a federal sexual harassment and retaliation suit brought by the EEOC.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.