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Press Release 07-25-2018

California Farm to Pay $300,000 To Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment & Retaliation Lawsuit

Manager Harassed a Class of Female Farmworkers, Fired Those Who Complained, Federal Agency Charged

SAN DIEGO - Bornt & Sons, Inc. and its former farm labor contractor Barraza Farm Service, LLC / Barraza Farm Service, Inc. will pay $300,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC, a farm manager sexually harassed a class of four female workers by leering at them; grabbing their private areas; making sexual comments; and subjecting them to unwanted touching and kissing. The EEOC contends that the manager retaliated against at least three women who refused his sexual advances, either by firing or refusing to rehire them -- a tactic also employed against workers who reported or complained about the harassment. Bornt & Sons and Barraza also fired at least three male farmworkers for their familial association with the sexual harassment victims, according to the EEOC. The EEOC further charged that the companies failed to take corrective action when they became aware of the federal investigation into sexual harassment, instead moving the harasser to a different farm.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit against the agribusiness in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in April 2017 (EEOC v. Bornt & Sons, Inc. dba Bornt Family Farms; Barraza Farm Service, LLC dba Barraza Farm Service and/or Barraza Farm Services; and Barraza Farm Service, Inc. dba Barraza Farm Service and/or Barraza Farm Services, Case No: 3:17-cv-00678-W-NLS). The court approved the consent decree that resolves this case, which remains under the court's jurisdiction for the term of the decree.

As part of the three-year consent decree, Bornt & Sons and Barraza Farm Services will pay $300,000 to the sexual harassment and retaliation victims. The companies further agreed to immediate reinstatement for those workers previously denied reemployment, along with the assignment of an EEO compliance coordinator who will assist in regular EEO compliance audits. The companies also agreed to the creation of a new employee policy manual addressing harassment and its reporting procedures, sexual harassment and EEO training of all staff members, and the creation of a centralized record keeping log to track all harassment complaints. The EEOC will monitor compliance with this agreement.

"Sexual harassment continues to remain a persistent problem in the agriculture industry," said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District, which includes San Diego in its jurisdiction. "Employers should take advantage of the EEOC's harassment report recommendations to ensure a hostile free work environment."

Rosa Viramontes, director for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, added, "In this case, the farmworkers exhibited great courage in reporting the harassment and showing others that there are resources to combat such abuse. Employers should welcome reports of harassment as an opportunity to stop and correct inappropriate behavior. Retaliation against workers who exercise their right to complain is not only against the law, but also allows the hostile work environment to fester."

Bornt & Sons, headquartered in Holtville, Calif., operates organic farms specializing in organic salad mix in Imperial County, Calif. Barraza Farm Service is a labor contractor that provides workers to area farms. Barraza Farm Service has locations in Calipatria and Holtville, Calif.

Eliminating discriminatory practices 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).

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