America’s Largest Onion Grower to Pay $150k to Settle EEOC Harassment and Retaliation Suit

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River Point Farms Supervisor Reinforced Domestic Abuse, Federal Agency Charged

PENDLETON - A Hermiston, Ore., farm which calls itself America's  largest onion grower will pay $150,000 to a female worker and provide other relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S.  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

The EEOC's lawsuit charged 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 beatings  by her husband, a co-worker employed at River Point.

More than once, the EEOC said, the supervisor publicly encouraged  the woman's husband to kill her.  After  her spouse attempted to kill her in September 2010, the supervisor blamed her  for causing her husband's arrest and fired her.   Although River Point later allowed her to return to work, 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. 

"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.  "The EEOC  told me I have a right to work without having to endure that kind of abuse.  I hope other workers will know they can speak  out against verbal and physical harassment without fearing for their jobs."

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. The worker was also represented  by private counsel from Legal Aid Services of Oregon and the Oregon Law Center.

In addition to monetary damages, River Point has also agreed  to rehire the worker, issue EEO policies in English and Spanish to all of its  employees; institute changes to ensure that its complaint procedures are  accessible; train its management; and hold supervisors accountable for any discrimination,  harassment, or retaliation under their watch.   In addition, River Point will report harassment complaints to the EEOC  for three years, and will not rehire the alleged harasser in any capacity.

"It is imperative that employers deal swiftly and  effectively with harassment," said EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo.  "Likewise, employers cannot make the problem  go away by punishing the employee who reports harassment.  We are pleased with the settlement and the  fact that River Point Farms is taking action to prevent future occurrences of  sexual harassment and retaliation in its workplace." 

EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado added, "With nearly  one-third of American women reporting being physically or sexually abused by a  husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, I encourage employers to  learn how to respond to domestic violence when it impacts their workplace.   Train supervisors to respond quickly and  reasonably, and especially warn them not to take adverse actions against those  who speak out against abuse." 

The EEOC has recently issued a set of questions and answers  on applying federal EEO laws to workplace issues concerning domestic violence,  available at www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_domestic_violence.cfm.   

This case fits within two of the six national priorities  identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP): protecting vulnerable  workers who may be less familiar with their rights under equal employment laws,  and addressing workplace harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment  discrimination.  Additional information  about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov .

 

Topics:  EEOC, Retaliation, Sexual Harassment, Title VII

Published In: Civil Remedies Updates, Civil Rights Updates, Labor & Employment Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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