EEOC Charges Potato Packing Companies for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

by Jennifer Melendez

On October 7, 2015, Two Colorado potato-packing companies, Smokin’ Spuds Inc. and Farming Technology Inc., agreed to pay $450,000 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suit for sexual harassment and retaliation. The EEOC charged both companies with violating federal law by subjecting more than a dozen women to frequent, harassing comments and unwelcomed physical contact from their supervisor, Samuel Valdez. The suit also alleges that the companies terminated three women in retaliation for making complaints to management about the harassment.

According to the EEOC charge, Mr. Valdez made sexual comments and gestures to the women, touched the them on their buttocks and breasts, and, at least in one incident, placed a female employee on his lap. Because most of the women who made complaints were fired for doing so, the harassment continued for years. Mr. Valdez’s conduct, the companies’ failure to adress complaints and the termination of those women for making complaints, all violates Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits, among other things, sexual harassment and retaliation for making a complaint.

Along with the payment of $450,000, the EEOC directed the defendants to follow a three-year decree that forbids them from engaging in any future employment practice that discriminates on the basis of sex and to participate in extensive training on employment discrimination laws. The decree also requires that the defendants apologize to the women and terminate Valdez’s employment. EEOC Regional Attorney, Mary Jo O’Neill stated:

This type of misconduct that is allowed to go on over a period of several years – with a number of different women experiencing a gauntlet of harassment from the same supervisor – has no place in the workplace. We believe that our lawsuit and the significant relief obtained in this settlement will send the message, not only to the defendants, but to the entire produce packing industry, that EEOC will not tolerate this kind of abuse – or retaliation for complaining about it.

Women often feel reluctant to report sexual harassment they have experienced at work. They may feel that as a result of the complaint, their privacy will be invaded, the report will damage their reputation, or they ultimately will lose their job. If you feel that you have sexually harassed or have been retaliated against for making a complaint, please call The Harman Firm, LLP.