Hispanic Female Orchid Farmworkers Were Groped and Propositioned by Supervisors and Struck by One, Federal Agency Charges
LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that it filed a sex and national origin discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against Cyma Orchids, Inc., an orchid farm in Oxnard, Calif.
The EEOC asserts that at least four female Hispanic greenhouse workers were repeatedly sexually harassed by supervisors, managers, a front office employee and the company’s owners. The abuses included groping, unwanted touching of their breasts and buttocks, repeated propositions, sexual jokes and comments about their bodies. The EEOC contends that the sexual harassment – committed by both Korean and Hispanic male supervisory staff alike – was also laced with national origin bias. Harassers allegedly joked about how often Mexican women have sex, and made comments that Mexican women were “lazy” and “do not know their place.”
The EEOC further contends that one of the company’s owners, a Korean male, even physically hit one of the Hispanic female staff while she was working, part of a larger practice of using violence and threats of violence against the mostly Hispanic female greenhouse staff. Furthermore, the EEOC maintains that female workers were treated differently from their male counterparts in that only women were assigned to clean the bathrooms. Also, female workers were purportedly timed for their bathroom use, while males were not.
In addition, the EEOC claims that Cyma Orchids retaliated against those who complained about the harassment and discrimination, including firing a Hispanic male lead greenhouse worker who defended one of the victims. A victim was also reassigned from the indoor to the outdoor greenhouse upon complaint, a transfer that resulted in a heavier and less desirable workload.
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California (EEOC v. Cyma Orchids, Inc., Case No. CV 10-7122 DMG (RZx)), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC’s suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the victims of discrimination and harassment, back pay for the victims of retaliation and discharge, and injunctive relief intended to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation at Cyma Orchids.
“No matter what the size of the employer, the EEOC is prepared to take action in the face of such widespread workplace discrimination and harassment,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “Employees have the legal right to work without the fear of being touched or degraded.”
“A company’s culture is dictated from the top down,” said Olophius Perry, district director for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “Owners and senior managers need to set a standard free of bias, harassment and retaliation and ensure that it is perpetuated throughout.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.