Supervisors Harassed Female Farmworkers Over Period of Time, Then Punished Them for Complaining, Federal Agency Charges
DENVER - MountainKing Potatoes, the name under which Smokin' Spuds, Inc. and Farming Technology, Inc., operate a potato warehouse in Monte Vista, Colo., created a hostile work environment by allowing managers to sexually harass female employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The EEOC also charged that the company unlawfully retaliated against those who complained about the sexual harassment.
The EEOC said managers repeatedly subjected women farmworkers to inappropriate sexual touching, comments, gestures and propositions. When women complained about the mistreatment, the company punished them in various ways, including termination or assigning them to the least desirable assignments and workstations as retaliation. The EEOC said that one of the victims felt she had to arrive slightly late because one of the harassers was always present at the time clock to be abusive to her. She was disciplined for this despite her explanation that she had only been trying to avoid sexual harassment, and no action was ever taken to stop or prevent the abuse.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. The EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Smokin' Spuds, Inc. d/b/a MountainKing Potatoes, and Farming Technology, Inc., Case No. 14-cv- ) after first attempting to resolve the matter through its pre-litigation administrative conciliation process. The suit seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages. The EEOC also seeks injunctive relief prohibiting any future discrimination by the employer and mandating corrective action.
"Farm workers, whether in remote and underserved areas, or isolated in a warehouse, are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace, and it is essential for their employers to stop the kind of conduct we charged in this civil action," said Mary Jo O'Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, whose jurisdiction includes Colorado. "These workers and their employers must be aware of the laws prohibiting this form of unlawful hostile work environment."
EEOC Denver Field Office Director Nancy Sienko added, "We encourage agricultural workers to step forward when they believe they are experiencing discrimination, and this includes workers who do not speak English. We have Spanish-speaking investigators, and we can accept charges by mail."
Eliminating, discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under equal employment laws or reluctant or unable to exercise them, are one of six national priorities identified by the SEP. These policies can include disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, and trafficking.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.