Could this signal the high water mark for the EEOC’s targeting sexual harassment of workers in the agricultural industry?
Our readers know by now that under its Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”) the EEOC is targeting harassment against “vulnerable workers,” such as migrant workers. See our blog of March 18, 2013.
In a recent settlement, the EEOC announced that “The Spud Seller,” a potato wholesaler in Colorado, had agreed to pay $255,000 in a sexual harassment lawsuit where the warehouse supervisor repeatedly harassed at least 10 female hourly employees who worked as potato sorters. Over a six-year period, he repeatedly made sexual comments, groped and touched them, exposed himself to them, and solicited sexual acts. An EEOC attorney said “The EEOC considers protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers from discrimination and harassment a priority under the Strategic Enforcement Plan."
We have now learned that a jury in federal court in Yakima, Washington has found in favor of a large apple grower against 14 women who claim to have been subjected to ongoing sexual comments, unwanted propositioning and physical groping. The court heard testimony that a supervisor told one woman whose 16-year-old daughter also worked at the company, that she should give her to him for sex. It was testified that he harassed the younger woman repeatedly, telling her he wanted her sexually, pressed up against her body and touched her breasts.
The company contended that none of the plaintiffs complained of harassment, and that a “disgruntled cousin” of the supervisor was the source of the complaints.
Said an attorney for the company: "We can only hope this verdict changes the confrontational manner in which the EEOC approaches its claims against members of the agriculture industry."
Said an EEOC attorney: "We believe (sexual harassment) is still a problem in the industry," and that in sexual harassment trials one the issues will always be he said-she said.
It will be interesting to see how this adverse verdict impacts the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan or its zeal to implement it.