$110,000 Settlement Against Woodburn Tree Farm for Ethnic and Sexual Harassment, Training Ordered

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Question:  Would employment discrimination training have prevented this case?  See our trainings at http://www.hrclassroom.com.

Holiday Specialtrees, a Christmas tree farm in Woodburn, Ore., will pay $110,000 and furnish other significant relief to settle a sexual harassment and national origin discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to the EEOC, two male workers were made the target of sexual humiliation and verbal abuse because they are Mixtec, an indigenous group from Oaxaca, Mexico. For example, their supervisor and other workers would expose themselves to the Mixtec workers while making sexual comments. Several co-workers would frequently grab the men’s buttock and chest area, or grab them from behind and simulate anal sex. In addition, the supervisor and co-workers routinely ridiculed the men for being Mixtec and for speaking their native language, Mixteco. Refusing to use their proper names, they referred to one as “sapo” (toad) and the other as “animal.” Holiday Specialtrees denies the allegations but agreed to settle the lawsuit.

National origin discrimination and sexual harassment violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC, et al., v. Holiday Specialtrees, Inc., CV-10-3606-TC) in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon at Eugene only after an investigation by EEOC Investigator Bryne Moore and first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The two workers were also represented in the lawsuit by the Oregon Law Center’s Project Against Workplace Sexual Assault of Indigenous Farmworkers and by Legal Aid Services of Oregon.

Under the terms of the consent decree approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin, the company will institute measures to prevent future harassment due to gender or national origin, in addition to paying the two Mixtec workers $110,000. These measures include a zero-tolerance harassment policy, anti-discrimination training for all employees in Spanish, reporting to the EEOC on harassment complaints and posting a notice concerning this case at the work site.

“This case highlights the prejudices that a minority-within-a-minority can face,” said Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo of the EEOC’s San Francisco District Office, whose jurisdiction includes Oregon. “The law is very clear: all employees have the right to work in an environment free from hostility, intimidation and ridicule. Employers have a legal duty to respond promptly and adequately to reports of discrimination. Those who choose to ignore harassment will be held accountable in court by the EEOC.”

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