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Salinas Packing Company Sued For Sexual Harassment, Retaliation

Female Workers at Hilltown Packing Sexually Harassed By Supervisor, Federal Agency Charges

SALINAS, Calif. -- Hilltown Packing, a Salinas-based agricultural harvester with annual revenues of over $50 million, violated federal law by permitting sexual harassment and retaliation against female employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

The EEOC’s suit asserts that Filomena Ruelas, an experienced agricultural worker in her 40s, faced sexual comments, propositions and touching from her supervisor. After she reported to Hilltown management that the supervisor was pressuring her, she was not called back to work the next season. The lawsuit charges that other similarly situated women also experienced this type of sexual harass­ment and retaliation.

“All I wanted to do is work in peace and help support my family,” said Ruelas, who worked in the fields packing broccoli for Hilltown from 1999 to 2005.

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, which also forbids retaliating against employees who oppose such conduct. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (EEOC v. Hilltown Packing, Inc. (Civ. No. 5:09-CV-04646-PVT) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court. Ruelas will also be represented in the lawsuit by the California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), which brought the case to the EEOC’s attention. The EEOC seeks back pay, other monetary losses, and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Ruelas and other affected workers, as well as injunctive relief to prevent any future discrimination.

EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “Cases like this one show that sexual harassment against women working in the fields is unfortunately still prevalent. We filed this lawsuit to send a message to employers supervisors must be held accountable for abuses of power, and that all workers have the right to a job environment free from sexual harassment.”

Director Michael Baldonado of the EEOC’s San Francisco District Office added, “Agriculture is a key industry for California, and the EEOC has received many charges of blatant discrimination in this sector. We also have found many workers in this industry often may not be familiar with their rights and may face obstacles such as language access. We commend the bravery of Ms. Ruelas to come forward, and California Rural Legal Assistance for helping her to file a charge with us.”

CRLA attorney Michael Marsh noted, “Agricultural workers are among the most vulnerable of workers. They need to be protected.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at