Two farming companies that do business in San Diego County agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that accused them of allowing at least four female farmworkers to be sexually harassed and later denied work in retaliation for refusing sexual advances, federal regulators announced Wednesday.
The payment, which will go to the victim workers, resolves a lawsuit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed in April 2017 in San Diego, the commission announced Wednesday. The lawsuit said two Holtville-based companies, Bornt & Sons Inc., and its former labor contractor, Barraza Farm Services, broke federal discrimination laws starting as early as 2010.
The companies have denied the EEOC’s allegations against them and did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlements.
Along with the payment, the companies also agreed to terms including immediately reinstating the workers they retaliated against, creating new policies, providing training to help prevent similar harassment in the future and creating a system to track complaints, according to the commission’s announcement Wednesday. Regulators said the promised changes will take place over three years.
“In this case, the farmworkers exhibited great courage in reporting the harassment and showing others that there are resources to combat such abuse,” Rosa Viramontes, director of the EEOC’s Los Angeles district office, said in a statement the commission released Wednesday to announce the settlement.
The lawsuit alleged a male manager sexually harassed four female employees, including groping their buttocks and breasts without their consent, trying to kiss them, offering them money and extra work benefits in exchange for sex and making unwelcome sexually charged comments about their bodies including, “Your … look nice, you must have breastfed.”
In one case, a female employee was pulled away from her work to clean an office, the lawsuit said. The manager came in, locked the door, “removed his clothes, sat naked on a chair and asked her to [perform a sex act].”
The manager fired or refused to rehire employees who reported, complained about or refused his sexual advances, the lawsuit alleged. The companies also were accused of firing at least three male farmworkers because they were related to the harassment victims.
When the companies learned of the federal investigation into complaints of sexual harassment, they failed to take action beyond moving the manager to another farm, where he continued to harass women, according to the lawsuit.
Cook writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.