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Ventura County News Roundup

OXNARD : 7 Farm Workers File Sex Bias Lawsuit

December 25, 1991|PATRICK McCARTNEY

A farm-worker advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against the Oxnard Lemon Co., charging that the packinghouse discriminates against women in its hiring practices and restricts them to lower-paid positions.

The lawsuit was filed by California Rural Legal Assistance and a Chicago law firm Monday in federal district court in Los Angeles on behalf of seven female employees of the packinghouse.

The sex bias case is the second to be filed against area citrus packers in recent years. In February, U.S. District Judge John G. Davies ordered the Saticoy Lemon Assn. to halt discrimination against women who applied for jobs traditionally reserved for men.

To settle that lawsuit, which was filed in 1987, the Saticoy Lemon Assn. agreed earlier this year to pay $550,000 to 76 women employees who were class-action plaintiffs.

According to the complaint filed Monday, job categories at the 170-employee Oxnard Lemon Co. were completely segregated before Frances Guzman and Jesusita Burciaga filed complaints in June with federal and state authorities.

"There has never been a female supervisor at Oxnard Lemon," said Lee Pliscou, a CRLA attorney.

Samuel Mayhew, manager of the Oxnard Lemon Co., declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Lawyers representing the employees said sexual bias remains widespread in agriculture.

"There seems to be a pretty clear pattern (of sex discrimination) in the fruit and vegetable packing industry," said Paul Strauss, one of the attorneys who filed the suit.

Both the Oxnard Lemon Co. and the Saticoy Lemon Assn. are members of the Sunkist marketing cooperative.

The complaint filed Monday charges that the Oxnard Lemon Co. hired women only for the lower-paid position of fruit grading, which includes sorting, washing and packing fruit. Most of the women were given fewer regular and overtime hours of work than male employees, the suit alleges.

The grievances led the women in June to file charges of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

After the complaints were filed, some of the women were promoted to higher-paying positions, but said they were threatened with a loss of seniority if they applied for better jobs, the suit said.

Pliscou said he had hoped the complaints filed in June, combined with the favorable Saticoy decision, would have prevented the need for litigation.

Strauss, with the Chicago law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, agreed. "I would think the packers would start reforming themselves," Strauss said. "If they don't, we'll keep suing."

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