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PRESS RELEASE
10-20-10

Frenchman Hills Vineyard Settles Sexual EEOC Sex Harassment Lawsuit

Federal Agency Obtains $33,000 for Latina Worker

SEATTLE – An Eastern Washington winery, La Pianta L.C.C., agreed to pay $33,000 to a Latina worker who had been employed at Frenchman Hills Vineyard in Othello, Wash., as part of a settlement to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC, the employee faced sexual harassment by the highest-level manager at the farm. Although she was initially hired to plant and prune grape vines, during her second week of employment, the harassing manager asked that she also clean his company-provided quarters and company offices located on the work premises. Taking advantage of her isolation from the other workers, he then targeted her for sexual harassment that escalated until she felt forced to quit.

Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC, et. al. v. La Pianta, LLC dba Frenchman Hills Vineyard, LLC, No. CV-09-303-RHW, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington) only after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

The worker, a 31-year-old mother of five children, said, “I just wanted to keep my job, do my work and be left alone. But it got to the point where I did not feel safe at work. I am so glad this is over, and that the company must take steps to make sure this will not happen to anyone else.” She was represented in the lawsuit by the Northwest Justice Project, a partner in the AMPARO Project to empower farmworker women to be free from sexual harassment.

Under the consent decree filed with the federal court, La Pianta agreed to pay $33,000 to the harassment victim and to provide anti-discrimination training for its managers, supervisors and employees. The company will also establish policies and procedures to address discrimination issues, report to the EEOC concerning any future discrimination complaints, and allow EEOC to monitor the work site for the next three years.

“ We hope that this case sends a message to employers to beware abuses of supervisory power, particularly when the work force has such vulnerability to predatory sexual harassment , " noted EEOC Seattle Field Office Director Luis Lucero. “The EEOCwill continue to focus on finding new and better ways to reach the most vulnerable discrimination victims, including farmworkers, to halt this kind of illegal treatment.”

EEOC San Francisco District Office Regional Attorney William Tamayo said, “The EEOC has seen a rise in sexual harassment cases involving female workers, particularly those from immigrant communities.”

He cited EEOC lawsuits against AllStar Fitness in Seattle alleging that a Latina janitor was raped multiple times; Willamette Tree Wholesale, Inc. of Molalla, Ore., charging sexual harassment and retaliation of several Latino workers, including one farmworker also repeatedly raped by her supervisor; and a suit with the Oregon Law Center against Woodburn, Ore.-based Wilcox Farms resulting in a $260,000 settlement in a sexual harassment case that involved a physical sexual assault.

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