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Grape Grower Sued Over Harassment

Labor: EEOC brings action against Coastal Valley Management on behalf of female farm workers.


In the fifth government lawsuit since 1998 targeting sexual harassment of female farm workers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued a Central Coast wine grape grower, citing the behavior of some of its supervisory employees, including the company's former human resources director.

The employment discrimination lawsuit claimed "severe and pervasive sexual harassment and retaliation" against female farm workers employed by King City-based Coastal Valley Management Inc.

"The very person responsible for investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints at Coastal Valley was one of the chief offenders harassing these women," said EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo, "which meant that the avenues to complain or get redress for these women were effectively closed."

The suit alleges that female farm workers endured unwelcome sexual advances, demands for sexual favors, unwanted touching and offensive comments that, in some cases, "lasted for a period of years."

An employee at the Coastal Valley office said no one there was willing to comment on the lawsuit.

Marc Grossman, a spokesman for the Sacramento office of the United Farm Workers, and Michael Meuter, directing attorney for the Salinas office of California Rural Legal Assistance, said sexual harassment of female farm workers is a widespread problem but is seldom reported.

"The women are often too fearful of losing the jobs that support their families. They also fear the loss of respect from spouses and family members," said Meuter, whose office is seeking to join the EEOC lawsuit on behalf of four women.

"Sexual harassment happens so often that the EEOC could fill all of its time filing these kinds of cases," Grossman said.

"The foremen and supervisors and other administrators have complete control over farm workers' livelihoods. They go begging hat in hand for jobs, and there is no job security or seniority," Grossman said.

The action against Coastal Valley follows two other sexual harassment EEOC lawsuits, against Fresh West Harvesting of Gonzales, Calif., and Tanimura & Antle in Salinas, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., in 1998. Those cases were settled for $90,000 and $1,855,000, respectively.

Two other EEOC sexual harassment lawsuits that were filed and later settled involved Golden Valley Produce and William Bolthouse Farms in Bakersfield in 2000 and Sunmet Agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley this year.

The Sunmet case was settled for $45,000 and mandated sexual harassment training for company managers and supervisors. The Golden Valley case was settled for $150,000 for two female employees.

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