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Oxnard Lemon Settles Discrimination Lawsuit : Employment: The firm will pay $575,000 to women who say the packinghouse was biased in hiring and promotions.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Oxnard Lemon Co. agreed Wednesday to pay $575,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing the packinghouse of discriminating against women.

The lawsuit--filed in 1991 on behalf of more than 100 current, former and prospective female employees--alleged that the company engaged in discriminatory hiring practices and restricted women to lower-paid positions.

Under terms of the settlement, Oxnard Lemon agreed to maintain non-discriminatory hiring and promotion policies. In addition, the company will reserve for women some jobs traditionally held by men.

“This lawsuit has really been great for the women at the plant who gathered the courage to stand up for themselves,” said Lee Pliscou, directing attorney for the Oxnard office of California Rural Legal Assistance. The poverty law firm joined a Chicago firm in bringing the suit forward.

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“I’m extremely proud of them,” Pliscou added. “They stood up for what they knew was right.”

The settlement follows a ruling in June by U.S. District Judge David D. Kenyon that the company was guilty of discriminating against women in hiring. A hearing on the other issues was set for later this month.

William Marrs, a Visalia attorney who represented the Oxnard Lemon Co., said the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing but an attempt to avoid a costly, drawn-out legal battle.

“The company’s view has always been that women are entitled to hold any position in the packinghouse they applied for and were qualified to perform,” Marrs said. “I think the company simply wanted to put an end to this litigation.”

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In a similar lawsuit three years ago, a federal judge ruled that Saticoy Lemon Assn. had violated anti-discrimination laws and ordered the packinghouse to halt its discriminatory practices.

Saticoy Lemon agreed to pay $550,000 to 76 female employees who were part of that class-action suit.

The suit against Oxnard Lemon accused company officials of upholding a pattern of discrimination against women in hirings, promotions and job assignments. The suit alleged that women were given fewer regular and overtime hours and no access to or training for higher-paid positions.

The lawsuit also charged that the company hired women only for the lower-paid position of fruit grading, which includes sorting, washing and packing fruit. When the grading work was finished, women were sent home while less experienced men were allowed to stay on to clean up and do maintenance, according to the suit.

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Under terms of the settlement agreement made public Wednesday, half of those cleanup and maintenance jobs will be reserved for women.

Also, current and former female packinghouse workers will share the $575,000 settlement amount.

Five named plaintiffs will get $20,000 a piece; two women who complained of discrimination in hiring each will receive $10,000; $325,000 will be divided among current and former workers; $115,000 will go to applicants discriminated against in hiring, and $15,000 will go to pay for arbitration, if necessary, to enforce the agreement.

In addition, Frances Guzman, a plaintiff in the case, will be promoted to forklift driver.

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Guzman, 41, was promoted from packer to general laborer after she and others filed discrimination complaints. She was the first woman to receive such a promotion at the company.

“I think we got everything we asked for,” Guzman said Wednesday. “I think we have shown we can do this work.”

Pliscou said his Oxnard law firm and the Chicago firm of co-counsel, Paul Strauss, will split $675,000 in attorney fees.

California Rural Legal Assistance is representing other women in another lawsuit alleging that the Dole Food Co. engaged in discriminatory hiring and promotion practices at a Ventura packing plant. Pliscou said he hopes that the settlement will encourage other women to fight to end such practices.

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“I know that a lot of times people talk about discrimination as a problem that is too pervasive to do anything about,” he said. “I hope that from this, people might get the idea that maybe they can do something about it.”


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