Farm Workers Fired for Assisting Teenage Female Employee Who Was Being Sexually Harassed in the Vineyards, Federal Agency Charges
LOS ANGELES – Giumarra Vineyards Corporation, one of the largest growers of table grapes in the nation, violated federal law by subjecting a teenage female farm worker to sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced today. Further, the EEOC said, the company retaliated against a class of other farm workers who came to her aid at its Edison, Calif., facility. All of the victims identified in the lawsuit are indigenous Indians from Mexico, a minority among the Mexican farm worker community.
According to the EEOC’s suit (EEOC v. Giumarra Vineyards Corporation, et al, Case No. 1:09-cv-02255), filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, the young female worker was subjected to sexual advances, sexually inappropriate touching and abusive and offensive sexual comments about the male sex organ by a male co-worker.
The EEOC further alleged that after witnessing the sexual harassment, a class of farm workers came to the aid of the teenage female victim and complained to Giumarra Vineyards. However, just one day after reporting and complaining about the sexual harassment, the teenage victim and the class of farm workers were summarily discharged in retaliation for their opposition to the sexual harassment.
“What happened to this vulnerable young girl was intolerable and illegal,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “And what this employer did to others who simply came to her defense was outrageous. Whenever workers alert their superiors about unlawful discrimination in the workplace, employers should act immediately to end the illegal mistreatment. If they don’t – if employers won’t protect their own workers from illegal harassment and instead retaliate against the whistle-blowers – then the EEOC will make sure they face the legal consequences.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful to harass employees based on sex, and prohibits an employer from retaliating against someone who complains about employment discrimination. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The agency seeks injunctive relief to end the discriminatory practices, plus back pay and compensatory and punitive damages to compensate the victims for their monetary losses and emotional pain and suffering and to deter Giumarra Vineyards from engaging in future civil rights violations.
EEOC Regional Attorney Anna Y. Park said, “The EEOC takes seriously charges where teenage victims are subjected to egregious acts of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Moreover, aggressive acts of retaliation against workers who exercise their right to oppose unlawful harassment will not be tolerated. The Commission will vigorously enforce those rights and will be vigilant in protecting employees from this type of retaliation.”
EEOC San Diego Local Office Director Marla Stern added, “Employers must understand that they have an obligation to their employees to provide a safe workplace free of the type of sexual harassment that took place here. They also must be aware that retaliating against an employee for complaining of such unlawful harassment is as much a civil rights violation as the harassment itself.”The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.