$535,000 for Workers Fired After Reporting Harassment at Salinas Plant
SALINAS, Calif. -- Monterey Gourmet Foods, Inc., a major producer of refrigerated gourmet food products, agreed to pay $535,000 to four Latino workers and to implement preventive measures to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, three women and one man employed as packers in the lasagna, tamale and ravioli production units in Salinassuffered sexual harassment by the same male supervisor. Starting in August 2006, their new crew leader’s conduct included sexual comments, texting obscene pictures, and unwanted physical touching. Although the employees reported the harassment to management and the human resources department, the company failed to take prompt and effective corrective action. I n May 2008, just weeks after two workers filed discrimination charges with the EEOC, all four workers were discharged or laid off as retaliation.
“You should not have to choose between your personal dignity and making a living,” said the male worker, who is in his 80s. “It is good to know that the law protects workers from that kind of treatment, no matter whether you are male or female, young or old. I'm very glad my co-workers spoke to California Rural Legal Assistance, and that they brought our case to the EEOC.”
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. MontereyGourmet Foods, Civil Action C10-00152 LHK HRL in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ) only first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Under the terms of the consent decree entered by Judge Lucy H. Koh, Monterey Gourmet Foods will pay $535,000 to the workers and has agreed to bolster its anti-harassment policy, provide preventive training to managers and employees and file periodic reports to the EEOC regarding any complaints of harassment or retaliation.
According to EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado, “Monterey Foods has agreed to take smart steps to enhance the effectiveness of their policies. For example, they plan to include examples of what constitutes illegal harassment and how to report it, and they will make the policy available in Spanish. This is a good result for both the company and their employees.”
EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo pointed out that more than a third of all cases seen by the Commission involve retaliation, and that, for the first time ever, retaliation under all statutes (36,258) surpassed race (35,890) as the most frequently filed charge at the EEOC in fiscal year 2010. Tamayo said, “Employers who try to solve a harassment problem by getting rid of the people who speak out about it will only add to that statistic. We hope this settlement will remind employers to respond properly to complaints about harassment or discrimination, with timely investigation and steps to end any misconduct found.”
The four workers were also represented in the lawsuit by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a nonprofit legal services program that seeks to improve the quality of life for low-income individuals and their rural communities. CRLA Attorney Dan Torres said, “Our clients faced hostile conditions that no worker should have to endure: verbal and physical harassment, including obscene sexual bullying. Current and future Monterey Gourmet Foods workers should feel confident in reporting acts of harassment.”
According to its website, www.montereygourmetfoods.com, Monterey Gourmet Foods (NASDAQ: PSTA) has national distribution of its products, which are sold under the brands Monterey Pasta Company, CIBO Naturals, Emerald Valley Kitchen and Sonoma Foods and in more than 11,000 retail and club stores throughout the United States and selected regions of Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov .