Another harassment suit, another expensive settlement

The EEOC continues to crack down on allegations of sexual harassment in the agricultural industry. Latest settlement cost: $450,000.  

Two potato packing companies will ante up the cash and furnish other relief to settle a lawsuit for sexual harassment and retaliation brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency announced.

EEOC charged Smokin’ Spuds, Inc., d/b/a MountainKing Potatoes, and Farming Technology, Inc., d/b/a MountainKing Potatoes, with violating federal law by subjecting more than a dozen women to regular verbal sexual harassment and unwelcome physical contact from a supervisor.

EEOC also claimed that the companies unlawfully discharged three of the women in retaliation for refusing to submit to the harassment or making complaints about the harassment to other management officials.

The two companies operate a potato packing plant in Monte Vista, CO.

The EEOC suit alleged that supervisor Samuel Valdez engaged in various sexually inappropriate actions, including making sexual comments and gestures, propositioning female employees, touching them on their buttocks and breasts, and in at least one instance, pulling a female employee onto his lap.

Complaints to management went unheeded, according to EEOC, and in some circumstances, women were actually fired after complaining. As a result, the harassment continued unabated for several years.

Third win

This is the third case in which the EEOC has successfully settled charges of harassment in the agricultural industry. The first case, EEOC v. Spud Seller, Inc., settled for $255,000 and a consent decree was entered on Jan. 31, 2013. Just last month, EEOC obtained a $17 million jury verdict in its sexual harassment case against Moreno Farms, Inc.

In addition to paying the $450,000, the defendants in the recent case are also subject to a three-year consent decree which enjoins them from engaging in any future employment practice which discriminates on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, and from retaliating against individuals who oppose such practices.

Additionally, the decree requires:

  • extensive training for employees, supervisors and human resources officials on employment discrimination laws
  • letters of regret to the affected women
  • posting a notice regarding employees’ rights to be free of harassment and retaliation
  • distribution of EEO policies, including Spanish versions, and
  • establishing a consent decree monitor with various oversight responsibilities.

The companies will also report to EEOC regarding compliance with the decree.

They’ve also agreed to part ways with Samuel Valdez.



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Source: News from HR Morning