Employer Failed to Stop Supervisor's Sexual Demands, Retaliated Against Workers Who Spoke Out, Federal Agency Charged
SEATTLE - National Food Corporation, a major supplier of eggs to the Pacific Northwestern and Midwestern United States and East Asia with headquarters in Everett, Wash., will pay $650,000 to five workers and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC's suit charged that a supervisor at National Food's egg farm in Lind, Wash., repeatedly demanded sexual favors from a female laborer, who worked alone in a henhouse, in order to keep her job. Taking advantage of her isolated workplace, the supervisor would physically grab the barn worker and demand sex from her on a weekly basis, from 2003 to 2010. The EEOC also alleged that when her co-workers raised complaints about sexual harassment to company management, they were fired or forced out of their jobs.
"For almost seven years, I tried to just survive these demands from my boss, because I needed to support my mother and my daughter," said the worker. "I hope my case will help other workers to speak out against sexual harassment. It's important to know that that you have a right to say no to sexual demands even from a supervisor, and that the law protects you when you protest harassment."
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. National Food Corp., CV-12-00550-TOR.) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, after an investigation conducted by EEOC investigator Richard Hernandez, and first attempting to reach voluntary settlement out of court. The workers were also represented by private counsel from Columbia Legal Services and MacDonald Hogue & Bayless.
"This lawsuit is another in an unfortunate pattern of employers taking advantage of female agricultural workers who often work in isolation and are unaware of their rights," said David Lopez, general counsel of the EEOC. "It is one of the EEOC's national priorities to combat discrimination against vulnerable workers, and we hope that this settlement sends a message to other employers that they need to be vigilant to prevent sexual harassment and other abuse."
Under the consent decree resolving this lawsuit, National Food has also agreed to issue EEO policies in English and Spanish to employees throughout Eastern Washington and South Dakota; institute changes to ensure that its complaint procedures are accessible; and train its management and to hold supervisors accountable for any discrimination, harassment or retaliation under their watch. In addition, National Foods will report harassment complaints to the EEOC for four years, and will not rehire the alleged harasser in any capacity.
"All workers have the right to a workplace free of harassment," said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo, whose office has jurisdiction over Washington State. "We are glad that National Foods worked with the Commission to reach this resolution without going through lengthy and costly litigation. The settlement will provide significant relief for individuals EEOC believes were victims of egregious harassment and retaliation. The changes in company practices and the discharge of the harasser will hopefully create a safe place for employees."
"Abuse of power should not occur in the workplace, whether in a white-collar office or on an isolated farm," said Michael Baldonado, director of the EEOC's San Francisco District Office. "The steps that National Food has agreed to should send a clear message that sexual harassment and retaliation will not be tolerated."
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.