Dried Fruit Producer Fired a Class of Workers Who Protested the Widespread Abuse by Supervisors, Federal Agency Charges
FRESNO, Calif. - Z Foods, Inc., doing business as Zoria Farms, and its predecessor company, Zoria Farms, Inc., subjected its female workers to ongoing sexual abuse, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The Madera, Calif., dried fruit producer also unlawfully fired a class of workers in retaliation for reporting the abuse, the EEOC said.
According to the EEOC's suit, supervisors at both Z Foods and Zoria Farms targeted at least four female workers for sex in 2007 and 2008, with unwanted touching, lewd comments about their appearances, solicitations for dates and propositions on a daily basis. A practice of sexual harassment allegedly ensued, with the supervisors routinely soliciting sex from female subordinates as a condition of employment or in exchange for more favorable jobs. Some who did not comply were fired in retaliation, the EEOC said. When Z Foods took over operations of the Madera facility, Zoria Farms and Z Foods retaliated against five workers who had previously reported the widespread sexual abuse to human resources and management officials by failing to retain their employment. Z Foods further terminated two more for their familial association, according to the EEOC.
Such alleged conduct violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit against Zoria Farms in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (EEOC v. Z Foods dba Zoria Farms, Zoria Farms Inc, and Does 1-10, Case No. 1:13-CV-01544 LJO SKO), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC's suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the class of affected employees.
"In the agricultural sector, we continue to see too many complaints of women subjected to sexual harassment -- a growing concern for the EEOC," said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District, which includes Central California in its jurisdiction. "Employers need to send the message that harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and that these problems will be handled in a timely and effective manner."
Melissa Barrios, local director of the EEOC's Fresno Local Office, said, "Workers have the right to rise up and protest a sexually hostile working environment without repercussions. Employers who choose to ignore harassment complaints or turn against workers who exercise their right to protest open themselves up to even greater liability."
Eliminating discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under equal employment laws or reluctant or unable to exercise them is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). These policies can include disparate pay, job segregation, harassment and human trafficking.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.