Wisconsin’s Largest Ginseng Producer Subjected Female Workers to Hostile Work Environment and Then Fired Them for Resisting, Federal Agency Claims
MILWAUKEE – A major agricultural company in central Wisconsin, Baumann Farms, violated civil rights law when it subjected female employees to a hostile work environment, and then fired them in retaliation for opposition to sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in Wisconsin today. The EEOC also charged Baumann Farms with national origin discrimination against Hispanic employees.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the employees worked for Baumann Farms from April 2018 to August 2019 as farm workers. Baumann Farms, located on 500 acres in Wausau, Wisconsin, is the largest grower and producer of ginseng in the Midwest. The female employees were harassed by their male supervisor, who propositioned them for sex, sent them sexually explicit photographs and texts, touched them inappropriately, and subjected them to sex-based derogatory comments and threats of physical harm. The employees were also fired for opposing the sexual harassment, according to the EEOC’s lawsuit. The EEOC also charged that Baumann Farms subjected a class of similarly situated female employees to a hostile work environment based on sex.
Further, the EEOC said that Baumann Farms has an English-only policy that discriminates against non-English-speaking Hispanic employees based on national origin.
This alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their sex or national origin. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baumann Farms, LLP., Civil Action No. 3:21-cv-00579) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.
“Sexual harassment violates the law and this case shows that female farm workers are extremely vulnerable to harassment in the workplace,” said Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District. “Discrimination against agricultural workers is a problem that the EEOC will continue to vigorously pursue.”
Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said, “An employer cannot fire employees because they oppose sexual harassment. Further, an employer may not have an English-only policy like the one in this case that is not justified by business necessity, because it discriminates against non-English-speaking employees based on national origin. Prosecuting such violations of Title VII is critical to ensuring that the law fulfills its purpose.”
The EEOC’s legal team in its Milwaukee and Minneapolis Area Offices will conduct the litigation under the management of the agency’s Chicago District Office. That office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and litigation in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.