Workers Threatened for Cooperating in Investigation, Federal Agency Charges
YAKIMA, Wash. – One of the nation’s largest apple producers violated federal law when its management retaliated against workers for cooperating in a federal discrimination investigation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced in a lawsuit filed today. This is the agency’s second lawsuit against Evans Fruit Company; in June 2010, the EEOC charged that female farmworkers were sexually harassed at the grower’s Sunnyside ranch.
The EEOC’s current lawsuit alleges that former ranch manager Juan Marin, crew leaders and other employees used intimidation and threats in an attempt to prevent witnesses from participating in its investigation into the sexual harassment case. According to the EEOC, Marin and his associates at Evans Fruit made it clear that anyone who did cooperate would suffer serious harm. Two workers relocated to another state in fear, the EEOC said. The agency said that Marin also attempted to coerce one of these witnesses to keep him informed about anyone who continued to speak to the EEOC.
Retaliation for reporting or assisting in the prosecution of sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After first attempting to reach a settlement out of court through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (Case No. 11CV-113093) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in Yakima, seeking relief on behalf of the retaliation victims, training on anti-retaliation laws, posting of anti-retaliation notices at the work site and other measures to prevent future violations. The workers are also represented in the lawsuit by the Northwest Justice Project, a not-for-profit law firm providing free assistance and representation to low-income people and communities throughout Washington.
“From the beginning, this case has been marked by an extraordinary need to prevent intimidation and threats,” said EEOC Regional Attorney William Tamayo. “We filed suit today as another in a series of emergency measures to ensure the safety of the farmworkers coming forward in this sexual harassment case.”
Tamayo cited the history of this case:
Tamayo added, “Filing for a temporary restraining order is not a common action for us, and obtaining a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy. But in this case, we saw an urgent need to do all in our power to protect the farmworkers who had the courage to come forward, and the court apparently agreed. We hope this lawsuit and the power of the court’s protections will encourage workers to testify with confidence that the law protects them and their jobs.”
Tamayo urged workers who experienced sexual harassment or retaliation 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, May Che at (206) 220-6919, or Debra Smith at (415) 625-5650. (All speak Spanish.)
According to company information, Evans Fruit Company operates 11 ranches, totaling over 7,000 acres, and includes apple orchards and three production facilities, and 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.