Dried Fruit Processor Supervisors Sexually Harassed Latina Farmworkers, Then Fired Those Who Complained, Federal Agency Charged
FRESNO - Zoria Farms, which once operated one of the largest processors of dried fruits in the United States, has settled a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $330,000 on behalf of ten Latino farmworkers, the federal agency announced today.
Since at least 2007, two supervisors for the Madera, Calif.-based company subjected at least four Latina female farmworkers to ongoing sexual harassment in the form of sexual comments, leering, hugging, kissing, requests for dates or sex, and unwelcome physical acts, the EEOC alleged. The federal agency further contended that four of the alleged victims and additional farmworkers (both male and female) reported the harassment on several different occasions; however, the EEOC said, the company failed to take immediate, corrective action to properly handle the situation, as required by federal law.
After Zoria Farms sold the company to Z Foods in 2008, seven of the ten workers were subsequently denied hire in retaliation for their complaints, the EEOC charged. After an investigation, the EEOC filed suit against both Zoria Farms, Inc. and Z Foods in September 2013 in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, alleging that the sexual harassment and subsequent retaliation violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (EEOC v. Zoria Foods, Inc., Z Foods, Case No. 1:13-at-00698). The EEOC's case against Z Foods is still pending in federal court.
The EEOC and Zoria Foods entered into a five-year consent decree to resolve the suit. Aside from the monetary relief, the company, which is no longer in operation, agreed to several injunctive remedies should they reopen, including hiring an outside equal employment opportunity (EEO) monitor to ensure implementation of effective policies, procedures and training for all employees to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The EEO monitor would also ensure the creation of a centralized tracking system for complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation and ensure that such complaints are investigated effectively.
Pursuant to the decree, management employees would also receive additional training on their EEO responsibilities; be required to immediately refer complaints to the human resources department; and be held accountable for failing to take appropriate action or engage in discrimination, harassment or retaliation. The EEOC will monitor compliance with the decree, which the company agreed to post visibly at all of the company's facilities.
"The agricultural industry in particular needs to recognize the susceptibility of its workforce to sexual harassment and make protecting workers a priority," said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District. "Employers must implement measures to both prevent and correct instances of sexual harassment at work."
Melissa Barrios, director of the EEOC's Fresno Local Office, added, "Workers who report sexual harassment in the workplace - even if they were not the direct victims - are protected from retaliation under the laws enforced by the EEOC. Employers cannot fire workers who exercise their federal right to report harassment in the workplace."
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.