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Press Release 09-30-2010

EEOC Sues Spud Seller, Inc. For Alleged   Sex Harassment By Supervisor

Supervisor Harassed Female Farm Workers Over Period of Time, Agency Charges

DENVER – The Spud Seller, Inc., located outside Monte Vista, Colo., created a hostile work environment by allowing one of its supervisors to continue to sexually harass female employees well after complaints had been made, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

The Spud Seller is a potato wholesaler in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. According to the lawsuit, a supervisor in the packaging plant, Mauricio Gaytan, sexually harassed women in the plant over an extended period of time after management was first placed on notice by a complaint lodged in 2004. EEOC alleges that when Maria de Jesus Ramirez was employed in 2007, she was harassed by Gaytan, and complained to management. Unsatisfied with the company's response, she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The EEOC investigation then uncovered several other women employed there who confirmed that they had undergone or witnessed sexual harassment by the same supervisor.

Such alleged conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. The EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. the Spud Seller, Inc., Case No. 10-cv-02381-MSK-KLM) after first attempting to voluntarily resolve the matter. The suit seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensation for emotional distress, and punitive damages. The EEOC also seeks injunctive relief prohibiting further discrimination by the employer and mandating corrective action.

"Sexual harassment is a real problem for farm workers in remote and under-served areas like this one. It is essential for their employers to stop the kind of conduct alleged in this complaint. Women should be allowed to make a living to support themselves and their families without having to be subjected to sexual harassment by a boss," said Mary Jo O'Neill, Regional Attorney for the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, whose jurisdiction includes the state of Colorado.

EEOC Acting District Director Rayford Irvin added, "We encourage workers in isolated areas and in the agricultural industry to step forward when they believe they are experiencing discrimination, as Ms. Ramirez did in this case. We have Spanish-speaking investigators and can take mail-in charges of discrimination."

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at