A federal judge has ordered Z Foods, Inc., once one of the largest dried fruit processors in the United States, to pay $1,470,000 in damages in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
EEOC had charged that Z Foods allowed male supervisors to sexually harass a class of female employees and fired male and female employees when they complained about the sexual harassment. The court awarded the maximum allowed by the statute, offset by a previous settlement, and ruled that the claimants suffered severe emotional distress as a result of actions of Z Foods.
The court found that two supervisors for the Madera, Calif.-based company subjected multiple female farmworkers to ongoing sexual harassment. The sexual harassment took the form of conditioning promotions and employment on sexual favors, continuous sexual advances, stalking female employees and unwanted physical touching and leering. Male employees, who witnessed the egregious harassment, complained about the abuse alongside their female employees. These employees were retaliated against and discharged soon after their complaint.
After an investigation, EEOC filed suit against both Z Foods and its predecessor, Zoria Farms, in September 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, alleging that the sexual harassment and subsequent retaliation violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (EEOC v. Zoria Foods, Inc., Z Foods, Case No. 1:13-at-00698). In April 2015, Zoria Farms settled the EEOC claim against it for $330,000 and a five-year consent decree containing injunctive remedies.
“EEOC continues to see sexual harassment and retaliation in the agricultural industry,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC’s Los Angeles District. “The solidarity that male employees displayed here in supporting and speaking up along with their female co-workers about the severe harassment is a critical component of remedying the pervasive problem of sexual harassment. The court’s findings vindicate the courage it took for these workers to stand up and demand a workplace free of sexual harassment.”
Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC’s Fresno Local Office, added, “Workers have the right to voice their concerns about a sexually hostile work environment without fearing repercussions from their employer. With this ruling, the court sends the message that employers who ignore or punish employees for complaining of harassment leave themselves open to greater liability.”
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
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Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Federal Judge Awards $1,470,000 in EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Case Against Z Foods, Press Release (Jul. 22, 2016) available at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/7-22-16a.cfm
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