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PRESS RELEASE
9-29-10

EEOC Sues Tree Farm For Sexual And Ethnic Harassment

Warehouse Manager Harassed Female Employees, Then Fired Them When They Complained, Agency Says

PORTLAND, Ore. – Holiday Specialtrees, a tree farm in Woodburn, Ore., violated federal law when it failed to stop the harassment of two male Mixtec employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC, the supervisor, who is Mexican, targeted the two men for daily verbal abuse and sexually degrading behavior because they are Mixtec, an indigenous group from Oaxaca, Mexico. For example, the supervisor would call each of them a “damn Indian dog” and “scabby dog,” and he forbade them from using their native Mixtecan language because it “sounded ugly.” This behavior escalated to threats of physical violence and sexual harassment. The supervisor assaulted one of the employees, groped him several times, and made sexually degrading comments to him. His actions prompted other employees to join in humiliating the Mixtec workers; co-workers exposed themselves to both men on multiple occasions and made crude comments about wanting the men sexually. The company failed to take appropriate action to stop the harassment, the EEOC alleges.

National origin discrimination and sexual harassment violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Holiday Specialtrees, Inc., CV-10-3606-TC) in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon at Eugene, and seeks monetary damages, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and other injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination of this kind.

“This case is unusual in highlighting the vulnerabilities of a minority-within-a-minority, the indigenous Mixtec population,” said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo whose jurisdiction includes Oregon. “The EEOC will aggressively pursue employers who fail to take appropriate action against illegal harassment, especially in situations like this where the balance of power is tipped so heavily against workers susceptible to attack.”

Luis Lucero, director of the EEOC’s Seattle Field Office, which is overseeing the case, added, “Holiday Specialtrees failed to conduct an adequate investigation into the problem, basically sweeping the issue under the rug. Managers must not ignore discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Business-savvy employers should have policies in place for dealing with incidents like this, or risk being in violation of federal laws. ”

According to its website, Holiday Specialtrees farms 2,200 acres with 3 million Christmas trees in production. The company ships trees throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and overseas.

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