Latinas Were Groped and Humiliated, Federal Agency Charges
LOS ANGELES – One of the largest orchid farms in the U.S., Cyma Orchids, Inc., will pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging pervasive harassment, discrimination and retaliation due to sex and national origin bias, the federal agency announced today. The farm’s former owner, Taean Orchids, will pay an additional $40,000.
A class of female Latina greenhouse workers of the Oxnard, Calif.-based company were sexually harassed continually by supervisors, managers, and the company’s owners, according to the EEOC. Women were groped and subjected to unwanted touching of their breasts and buttocks, repeated propositions, sexual jokes and comments about their bodies. Both Korean and Hispanic male supervisory staff alike engaged in the widespread sexual harassment which was also laced with discrimination based on their country of origin. 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 also alleged that workers who complained about the harassment and discrimination were retaliated against, including a Hispanic male lead greenhouse worker who was fired after defending one of the victims.
One of the victims stated, “You have the right to defend yourself when you suffer abuse. I found the courage to report the abuse that had happened to me and I also wanted to prevent the same abuse from continuing against my fellow female co-workers.”
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in September 2010 on behalf of the class in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California (EEOC v. Cyma Orchids, Inc., Case No. CV 10-7122 DMG (RZx)), alleging that the conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) then intervened into the EEOC’s lawsuit on behalf of one of the women. CRLA is a non-profit legal services program that seeks to improve the quality of life for low-income individuals and farm workers.
As part of settlement, the parties entered into a two-and-a-half-year consent decree requiring Cyma to assign an equal employment opportunity (EEO) coordinator to ensure all staff are trained regarding their EEO rights and responsibilities and the company’s policy and procedures against discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Aside from the monetary relief for the victims, Cyma is also required to track future complaints by creating a centralized tracking system and to hold employees accountable for failing to adequately address those complaints.
“We commend Cyma for implementing measures to prevent future instances of discrimination,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “We continue to see persistent problems in agriculture with harassment. Employers are responsible for Title VII compliance for migrant or farm workers.”
Andres Garcia, a CRLA attorney, added, “For our client, this case was about dignity and being free to work in an environment that's free from harassment. We are extremely pleased with this settlement and the preventative measures that will be implemented by the company to protect current employees from harassment.”
Olophius Perry, district director for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, said, “Our nation’s workers have the right to work without being touched or demeaned due to their country of origin. Retaliation against those that report discrimination is illegal, and the EEOC is here to help those who endure such violations of the law.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.