Washington Grower Resolves Claims on Appeal Before Ninth Circuit
YAKIMA, Wash. - One of the largest apple producers in the United States will pay $272,000 to 20 claimants as part of a settlement resolving sexual harassment and retaliation claims pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today. Evans Fruit has also agreed to take steps to ensure that the workers do not suffer any retaliation as a result of their participation in the lawsuits or settlement.
In June 2010, EEOC filed a lawsuit alleging that numerous female farm workers at an Evans Fruit ranch faced sexual harassment over a period of years. At the time, the agency won a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Evans Fruit and ranch manager Juan Marin for allegedly threatening and intimidating individuals who had assisted in EEOC's investigation. In September 2011, EEOC filed a second lawsuit against Evans Fruit, charging that such alleged intimidation constituted illegal retaliation. Northwest Justice Project represented retaliation claimants who joined as intervenors in EEOC's lawsuit as well as three women in the harassment suit. Both cases resulted in adverse rulings for EEOC and claimants (Case Nos. 10-CV-3033-LRS and 11-CV-3093-LRS, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington).
EEOC, represented by its appellate attorneys, took appeals in both cases. Northwest Justice Project also appealed on behalf of all intervenors, with James Lobsenz from the law firm Carney Badley Spellman, P.S. as co-counsel for the sexual harassment intervenors. While the appeals were pending in the Ninth Circuit, the Commission, Northwest Justice Project, and Evans Fruit reached a settlement resolving all claims in both cases.
Aurelia Garcia, one of the claimants, said, "Before this, I thought I didn't have any real alternatives. I thought that the harassment and fear were just part of the job, what I had to put up with to support my children. Now I know that there are laws that protect me and other women. I hope this will give other workers hope and help them to speak out."
"The EEOC and Northwest Justice Project fought hard to protect the rights of immigrant farmworkers and refused to simply go away when faced with losses in the trial court," said EEOC lead trial counsel Carmen Flores. "The temporary restraining order and the preliminary injunction were major victories for workers who had been scared to participate in our lawsuit. All claimants in the combined cases showed courage and perseverance, and this settlement closes a long chapter in their lives."
EEOC attorney May Che, who led the retaliation case, noted, "Following this litigation, Evans Fruit improved its policies and practices. But the impact of these cases has extended beyond just one company." Che noted that the PBS-televised documentary, "Rape in the Fields," which highlighted the Evans Fruit case, is being used as a training tool across the country and inspired the passage of farmworker sexual harassment legislation (SB 1087) in California.
"For the first time ever, the Washington Farm Labor Association, representing farm owners, invited the EEOC to speak about sexual harassment prevention. We hear anecdotally from workers that conditions have improved at farms across Eastern Washington," Che said. "With these cases, the EEOC has established itself as a resource and as a watchdog in the agricultural community."
Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers is one of six strategic enforcement priorities of EEOC.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.