Court Issues 'Extraordinary Remedy' in Favor of Federal Agency Suing Company for Sexual Harassment
YAKIMA, Wash. – One of the largest apple producers in the United States has been enjoined from interfering with workers involved in a federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. Citing the “likelihood of irreparable harm” to current and former employees of Eastern Washington-based Evans Fruit Company, the chief judge of Eastern District of the federal district court in Yakima ordered a preliminary injunction against the company and its former general manager, Juan Marin, and held them accountable for an “environment of intimidation.”
Marin’s sexual harassment of Evans Fruit employees is the central allegation in the EEOC’s suit ( Case No. 10CV-03033 LRS in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington) filed in June of this year. At the time of filing, the federal agency also sought and won a temporary restraining order against Evans Fruit and Marin for threatening and retaliating against former and current employees who assisted the EEOC in bringing the lawsuit. The court’s most recent order, issued October 26, converts the temporary order into a preliminary injunction, which extends the authority of the court’s protection of Evans Fruit employees who want to assist the EEOC or participate in the lawsuit through trial.
According to District Court Judge Lonny R. Suko, the EEOC clearly showed the occurrence or threat of workers being “chilled” from coming forward with claims relating to the agency’s suit. The court was persuaded that as a former manager for over 36 years at Evans Fruit who still retains a great deal of influence, Marin “has the means for intimidating others” and that there was “a likelihood he would employ those means for that purpose.” The court highlighted evidence that Marin had sent two underlings to a local public library to report back to him on Evans Fruit employees attending a meeting there in February with EEOC attorneys.
The order’s sweeping provisions apply to Evans Fruit, its officers, agents, managers, and employees, as well as Marin. The court has prohibited any retaliatory measures against the EEOC’s class members, witnesses, or family members, and any actions that would discourage free association with those same people. It also enjoined Evans Fruit from paying or offering to pay for favorable testimony in the EEOC’s case. The court order prohibits negative actions against current Evans Fruit employees who participate in legal proceedings or oppose unlawful conduct.
“This is a major victory for workers who have been scared to participate in our lawsuit,” said EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo. “The court has ordered protections to ensure that individuals can come forward without fear of reprisal.”
Tamayo urged workers who experienced sexual harassment at Evans Fruit to contact the EEOC to determine if they qualify to be part of the class: contact Carmen Flores at (206) 220-6853 or (832) 364-4190, May Che at (206) 220-6919 or Debra Smith at (415) 310-4658 . (All speak Spanish.)
Luis Lucero, director of the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office, commented on the order’s unusually strong wording, “This sends a strong message to employers and employees alike that retaliation will not be tolerated.
The EEOC filed suit against Evans Fruit seeking relief for three individual charging parties and a class of women who were sexually harassed at the grower’s Sunnyside ranch. According to the agency’s investigation, the ranch manager Juan Marin and crew leaders often singled out women (one who was 15 years old when the harassment started) for sexual advances, with work assignments that isolated them from friends and family members. The women were forced to quit, the EEOC charged, in order to get away from the ongoing sexual comments, propositioning and physical groping. Marin was terminated from the company after 36 years of employment after the lawsuit was filed. One of the harassment victims, represented by the Northwest Justice Project, had intervened in the EEOC's lawsuit and named Marin as an individual defendant along with Evans Fruit, his former employer.
According to company information, Evans Fruit Company operates 11 ranches, totaling over 7,000 acres and includes apple orchards and three production facilities, and it employs 1,200 - 1,300 seasonal employees in addition to regular staff.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov .