EEOC Says Male and Female Food Packers Fired After Reporting Harassment at Salinas Plant
SALINAS, Calif. -- Monterey Gourmet Foods, Inc., a major producer of refrigerated gourmet food products, violated federal law when it allowed a supervisor to sexually harass four Latino workers at its Salinas plant, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit. The EEOC also alleged that the company unlawfully retaliated against each worker by terminating them after they reported the harassment.
According to the EEOC’s suit, three women and one man who worked as packers in the lasagna, tamale and ravioli production units for several years faced sexual harassment from the same male supervisor. Starting in August 2006, their new crew leader’s conduct included sexual comments, gestures simulating sex with female workers, texting pornography, exposing himself, and grabbing the private body parts of workers. Although the employees reported the harassment to management and the human resources department, the company failed to take corrective action. In May 2008, all four workers were discharged or laid off just weeks after two of them filed discrimination charges with the EEOC.
The male worker, in his 80s, was mortified by the painful sexual groping. He said, “I needed to keep my job. Especially because of my age, I doubt I’ll ever be able to find other work.” One of the women added, “It got to the point where you just did not want to go in to work each day. I felt degraded and humiliated by my supervisor's endless sexual talk, the pornography, the gestures and touching. It was an abuse of power. That's why we decided to find help from the EEOC and California Rural Legal Assistance — to make it stop, if not for us, then for other workers.”
Sexual harassment violates Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, which also forbids retaliating against employees who oppose such conduct. The EEOC filed this suit (EEOC v. Monterey Gourmet Foods, Inc., No. C10-152-HRL in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) only after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation. The suit seeks monetary damages, supervisor accountability, training on anti-discrimination laws, reporting of retaliation complaints to the EEOC, and other injunctive relief to prevent future harassment and retaliation.
EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “Sexual harassment is often a matter of power. As Mexican immigrants and first-generation citizens in low-wage positions, these workers were particularly vulnerable. Once they put the harasser and Monterey Gourmet Foods on notice that the harassment was offensive and unwelcome, the company had a legal responsibility to take immediate and appropriate action to stop the misconduct. When an employer fails to do so, the EEOC must and will hold that employer accountable.”
EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado noted, “Employers do not solve a discrimination problem by getting rid of the people who speak out about it – that’s like throwing gasoline onto the places you smell smoke. When your employees come to you with news of harassment, take this as an opportunity to protect your human resources. Send a clear message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in your workplace.”
According to its web site, 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.