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PRESS RELEASE
10-5-12

EEOC Sues to Redress Sexual Harassment of Vulnerable Farmworkers

Three Lawsuits Filed in Pacific Northwest This Week As Part of Ongoing Effort, One Involved Male on Male Harassment

WASHINGTON-The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed three lawsuits this week  alleging sexual harassment and abuse of farmworkers-a group which is particularly vulnerable due to isolated working conditions and lack of familiarity with the protections of the law.  The lawsuits are part of an ongoing effort to protect workers in agricultural industries.

In the lawsuit filed against Roy Farms in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, EEOC alleged that a male supervisor barraged male workers with sexual and threatening comments, touched them in a sexual manner and insisted they watch him urinate.  When a worker complained, nothing was done to ameliorate the situation, and the worker felt he had to quit because he feared for his physical safety.

A supervisor for the self-proclaimed largest onion grower in the United States, River Point Farms of Hermiston, Ore., not only made sexual comments and requests for sexual favors to a seasonal farmworker, he also encouraged her husband to engage in domestic abuse, culminating in his publically encouraging the woman's husband to kill her, the EEOC's lawsuit claimed.  After her husband did try to kill her, the supervisor blamed her for causing her husband's arrest and fired her, the complaint filed in the District Court of Oregon alleged.

National Food Corporation, a major supplier of eggs to the Pacific Northwest and Midwest United States as well as East Asia, permitted a supervisor at its egg farm in Lind, Wash., to demand sex from a female employee as a condition of keeping her job, the Commission alleged in its lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Washington.  The victim worked alone in an isolated barn where the harasser was the only management person on site. 

"Unfortunately, we continue to see cases involving employees who suffer sexual exploitation at the hands of their bosses," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "All workers are entitled to a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination, and employers should think twice before assuming that vulnerable workers will not exercise their rights due to fear or the lack of understanding."

These three recent cases, all filed by the EEOC's San Francisco District Office and Seattle Field Office, join three earlier cases that were settled in the past six months also involving the sexual harassment of farmworkers: Mid Valley Labor Services ($150,000 relief for female grape vineyard workers in Northern California);  DiMare Ruskin (nationwide consent decree to prevent sexual harassment at its tomato farms stemming from lawsuit filed in Florida, as well as $150,00 in relief); and Giumarra Vineyards ($350,000 in relief from one of the largest growers of table grapes in the U.S., suit filed in southern California).  The Giumarra settlement is notable because the company undertook to use part of the monetary relief to train some 3,000 migrant workers on sexual harassment and retaliation in languages that they would understand, as well as training its managers and revamping its procedures for reporting and investigating sexual harassment. 

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Additional information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.