River Point Farms Supervisor Reinforced Abuse of Female Worker, Federal Agency Charges
PENDLETON - A Hermiston, Ore., farm which calls itself America's largest onion grower violated federal law when a supervisor reinforced the domestic abuse of a female employee with workplace harassment and retaliation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
The EEOC's investigation found that a seasonal farm worker for River Point Farms faced relentless verbal abuse from her male supervisor from 2005 to 2010. In addition to unwanted sexual comments and requests for sexual favors, the supervisor constantly told the female employee that women are inferior to men and that she should submit to her husband, a co-worker employed at River Point.
"My supervisor told me I was less than a man, that my husband should be allowed to beat me, and that I should put up with it because I am a woman," said the worker.
More than once, the supervisor publicly encouraged the woman's husband to kill her. After her spouse attempted to kill her in September of 2010, the supervisor blamed her for causing her husband's arrest and fired her. Although River Point allowed her to return to work thereafter a few weeks later, the company nonetheless laid her off much sooner than others and did not rehire her for several months while others were hired in her stead, a retaliatory act for her complaints about the supervisor's abusive and discriminatory treatment, the EEOC said.
Gender-based harassment and retaliation for reporting it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. RPF Holdings, LLC dba River Point Farms LLC CV-12-01765-SU) in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, seeking monetary damages on behalf of the female employee along with corrective measures in the workplace.
"This is a harrowing case -- our investigation found that the supervisor would laughingly recount an incident at work where this worker was pregnant and hiding under a table, yet her husband kicked her so savagely in the stomach that she went to the hospital," said EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado. "By law, employers must answer for the actions of their management and cannot allow this type of sexist and abusive behavior in the workplace."
EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, "With nearly one-third of American women reporting being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, it is important that all employers learn how to respond to domestic violence as it impacts the workplace. A study of domestic violence survivors found that 74 percent of employed battered women were harassed by their partner while they were at work. Employers should train their supervisors to respond quickly and reasonably to employees who report harassment, and to not take adverse actions against those who speak out against abuse."
River Point Farm's website, www.riverpointfarms.com, reports annual production of 490 million pounds of onions for major customers such as ConAgra, Costco, Kroger, and Safeway.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.