$450,000 to be Paid By Potato Packing Companies for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation, Training Ordered

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Question:  Would sexual harassment training have prevented this case?  See our trainings at http://www.hrclassroom.com.
Two potato packing companies will pay $450,000 and furnish other relief to settle a lawsuit for sexual harassment and retaliation brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

EEOC charged Smokin' Spuds, Inc., d/b/a MountainKing Potatoes, and Farming Technology, Inc., d/b/a MountainKing Potatoes, which operate a potato packing plant in Monte Vista, Colo., with violating federal law by subjecting more than a dozen women to regular verbal sexual harassment and unwelcome physical contact from a supervisor. EEOC also claimed that the companies unlawfully discharged three of the women in retaliation for refusing to submit to the harassment or making complaints about the harassment to other management officials.

According to EEOC's suit, supervisor Samuel Valdez engaged in various sexually inappropriate actions, including making sexual comments and gestures, propositioning female employees, touching them on their buttocks and breasts, and in at least one instance, pulling a female employee onto his lap. Complaints to management went unheeded, according to EEOC, and in some circumstances, women were actually fired after complaining. As a result, the harassment continued unabated for several years.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex harassment and retaliation for complaining about it. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Smokin' Spuds, Inc., d/b/a Mountain King Potatoes and Farming Technology, Inc., d/b/a Mountain King Potatoes, Case No. 1:14-cv-02206 REB-KMT (D. Colo.)) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to paying $450,000 in monetary relief, the defendants in this case are also subject to a three-year consent decree which enjoins them from engaging in any future employment practice which discriminates on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, and from retaliating against individuals who oppose such practices. Additionally, the decree requires extensive training for employees, supervisors and human resources officials on employment discrimination laws; letters of regret to the affected women; posting a notice regarding employees' rights to be free of harassment and retaliation; distribution of EEO policies, including in Spanish; and establishing a consent decree monitor with various oversight responsibilities. The companies will also report to EEOC regarding compliance with the decree, and they have agreed to no longer employ Samuel Valdez.

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