Earlier this week, Horning Brothers, a vegetable-packing house in Grant County, Washington agreed to pay $525,000 to settle a lawsuit that claimed a “supervisor groped, propositioned and retaliated against female workers over a period of years.” The suit was filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the settlement agreement was announced yesterday. According to Ferguson, the settlement is “believed to be the largest civil-rights resolution for the state in Washington history.”
Horning Brothers, a vegetable-packing house in Grant County, Washington recently agreed to pay $525,000 to settle a lawsuit that claimed a “supervisor groped, propositioned and retaliated against female workers over a period of years.” The suit was filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the settlement agreement was announced earlier today. According to Ferguson, the settlement is “believed to be the largest civil-rights resolution for the state in Washington history.”
While commenting on the settlement agreement, Ferguson said, “This reflects how seriously we take this issue and the terrible actions that were taken against these plaintiffs.”
Ferguson filed suit against the packing plant back in April 2017 in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington. Horning Brothers and Hermilo Cruz, the supervisor who allegedly groped and retaliated against female workers, were named as defendants. Prior to the settlement agreement, the suit “sought enforcement actions under the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act.”
So what happened? How many employees were allegedly discriminated against and assaulted? For starters, the lawsuit noted that women held about 28% of the 96,000 agriculture jobs in Washington in 2016, and that “sexual harassment is an occupational hazard that ‘profoundly impacts’ their ability to work safely in the industry.” It added that “Cruz served as a supervisor in an onion-packing shed that employed eight to 10 people full time and up to 40 seasonal workers.” Of the workers employed under him, the suit claimed that starting in 2012, Cruz only hired women to the packing line. During that time, multiple allegations were launched against him.
One allegation claimed Cruz required or attempted to require “that employees have sex with him to keep their jobs.” Other allegations accused Cruz of “overt sexual gestures, making comments about employees’ appearances and unwanted touching.” According to the suit, women who refused or opposed his unfair practices were discharged or retaliated against.
In fact, according to Ferguson, Cruz allegedly told many of the women, “If you are happy, you are free to stay. If you are aren’t, you can leave. There are lots of other people who want your job.’”
Back on September 11, 2018, a motion for partial summary judgment was granted by Judge Thomas Rice. In the motion, Judge Rice ruled that “Horning Brothers had an ineffective discrimination policy and did not act promptly after being notified about alleged harassment by a worker.”
As part of the settlement agreement, Cruz is no longer allowed to work in a supervisory position while employed by Horning Brothers, and the company must implement “employee-complaint procedures for reporting harassment.” Additionally, the settlement “mandates semiannual reporting to the Attorney General’s Office,” according to the agreement.
Eastern Washington packing house to pay $525,000 to settle lawsuit over worker sexual harassment
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