Latina Demoted After Refusing Supervisor's Sexual Advances, Federal Agency Charged
SEATTLE - The largest grower of organic tree fruit in the United States, Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers and its wholly owned subsidiary Stemilt Ag Services, will pay $95,000 to a Latina tractor driver and implement preventative measures to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Heidi Corona, the only female tractor driver at Stemilt's Wenatchee orchard, faced sexual harassment by her direct supervisor on her second day at a new location. He drove her to a remote area and made sexually explicit comments, propositioned her for sex, and attempted to kiss her. Trapped in a moving vehicle at an unfamiliar and remote location with no cell service, Corona asked him to stop and stated that she was only there to work. When she reported the harassment to upper management, Corona was given a choice of continuing to work under that supervisor or transferring to a warehouse for a lower-paying job sorting fruit. To avoid further contact with the supervisor, Corona took the sorter position.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to prevent and remedy sexual harassment and prohibits them from retaliating against an employee who reports harassment. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Stemilt Growers, LLC and Stemilt AG Services, LLC, 2:17-cv-00210-TOR) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington after an investigation led by the EEOC's Seattle Field office and after attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency's conciliation process.
Under the consent decree, Stemilt will pay Corona $95,000 and will provide an anti-discrimination policy and annual training to all management and staff. The company also agreed to institute complaint-handling procedures and to hold management and supervisors accountable for how they respond to these matters. In addition, Stemilt will post a notice on the case, and report annually to the EEOC for a three-year period.
"I hope that as a result of this settlement, Stemilt will listen to a woman who reports harassment and will give her support and not punishment," Corona said. "My message for other women workers is, 'Don't be afraid to use your voice, don't stay silent.' There are people at Northwest Justice Project and the EEOC who will help you find justice. The truth will come to light."
Nancy Sienko, director of the EEOC's Seattle Field Office, said, "Sexual harassment dominates the national conversation. Now more than ever, employers must show leadership, demonstrate accountability to all employees, and foster civil workplaces where everyone is shown respect."
Carmen Flores, EEOC senior trial attorney, noted, "Ms. Corona just wanted to drive her tractor, a rare position for a woman to hold in that industry. Instead, she was forced to give up a job she loved and take a pay cut to avoid harassment, an all-too-familiar pattern for workers across industries as seen from #MeToo accounts. We hope this settlement sends a clear message that EEOC can be a key resource in the fight to end workplace sexual harassment."
Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC and its wholly owned subsidiary Stemilt Ag Services LLC operate and manage over 150 acres of orchards in Eastern Washington.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.