Latina Employees Demoted and Terminated for Opposing Discrimination
SAN JOSE — Modesto, Calif.-based almond processor Fisher Nut Company violated federal law by retaliating against Latina employees who participated in a discrimination claim filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to a lawsuit filed today by the federal civil rights agency.
The EEOC’s investigation found that a group of Latina employees suffered numerous consequences for having attended an informal meeting that resulted in a discrimination charge being filed with the Commission. Some faced verbal threats and irrational warnings from their immediate supervisors; in one case, a worker was warned for “laughing during the course of the work day.” All but one of the workers were moved from various other jobs to the entry-level almond sorting position, widely considered the least desirable work at the plant. Ultimately, all the women were fired within two months of the informal meeting.
One of the women said, “At first, I did not understand why I was being transferred to almond sorting. But then I saw friends transferred there too, friends who had joined the discrimination claim against the company. We were constantly under close supervision. I felt we were being punished due to the claim we helped file. Later we were told in a meeting that we were being fired because Ron Fisher was very angry due to the discrimination claim. And after eight years of working for Fisher Nut without a single warning, I was terminated.”
Retaliation for reporting employment discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and it protects workers who speak out about such offenses. After first trying to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement, the EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Fisher Nut Company, Civil Action No. CV 10-01794 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division), and seeks monetary relief, including emotional distress and punitive damages, on behalf of the women affected by the retaliation, in addition to injunctive relief to prevent a recurrence of this type of discrimination.
According to EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo, "To effectively enforce the law, EEOC must ensure that workers may come forward with a claim without the fear of retaliation by their employer. In this case, it was a priority to defend workers vulnerable to retaliation that could potentially be hidden by the seasonal nature of their jobs."
The EEOC’s San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado said, “Punishing the employee who participates in an EEOC charge will only multiply your problems.” He noted that the number of retaliation charges filed with the EEOC in fiscal year 2009 (33,613) was more than double the number of sexual harassment charges filed (12,696) and has overtaken race discrimination (33,579 charges) as the number one problem alleged by workers filing complaints with the agency.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.