River Point Farms Supervisor Reinforced Domestic Abuse, Federal Agency Charged
PENDLETON - A Hermiston, Ore., farm which calls itself America's largest onion grower will pay $150,000 to a female worker and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC's lawsuit charged that a seasonal farm worker for River Point Farms faced relentless verbal abuse from her male supervisor from 2005 to 2010. In addition to unwanted sexual comments and requests for sexual favors, the supervisor constantly told the female employee that women are inferior to men and that she should submit to beatings by her husband, a co-worker employed at River Point.
More than once, the EEOC said, the supervisor publicly encouraged the woman's husband to kill her. After her spouse attempted to kill her in September 2010, the supervisor blamed her for causing her husband's arrest and fired her. Although River Point later allowed her to return to work, the company nonetheless laid her off much sooner than others and did not rehire her for several months while others were hired in her stead, a retaliatory act for her complaints about the supervisor's abusive and discriminatory treatment, the EEOC said.
"My supervisor told me I was less than a man, that my husband should be allowed to beat me, and that I should put up with it because I am a woman," said the worker. "The EEOC told me I have a right to work without having to endure that kind of abuse. I hope other workers will know they can speak out against verbal and physical harassment without fearing for their jobs."
Gender-based harassment and retaliation for reporting it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. RPF Holdings, LLC dba River Point Farms LLC CV-12-01765-SU) in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The worker was also represented by private counsel from Legal Aid Services of Oregon and the Oregon Law Center.
In addition to monetary damages, River Point has also agreed to rehire the worker, issue EEO policies in English and Spanish to all of its employees; institute changes to ensure that its complaint procedures are accessible; train its management; and hold supervisors accountable for any discrimination, harassment, or retaliation under their watch. In addition, River Point will report harassment complaints to the EEOC for three years, and will not rehire the alleged harasser in any capacity.
"It is imperative that employers deal swiftly and effectively with harassment," said EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo. "Likewise, employers cannot make the problem go away by punishing the employee who reports harassment. We are pleased with the settlement and the fact that River Point Farms is taking action to prevent future occurrences of sexual harassment and retaliation in its workplace."
EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado added, "With nearly one-third of American women reporting being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, I encourage employers to learn how to respond to domestic violence when it impacts their workplace. Train supervisors to respond quickly and reasonably, and especially warn them not to take adverse actions against those who speak out against abuse."
The EEOC has recently issued a set of questions and answers on applying federal EEO laws to workplace issues concerning domestic violence, available at www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_domestic_violence.cfm.
This case fits within two of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP): protecting vulnerable workers who may be less familiar with their rights under equal employment laws, and addressing workplace harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov .