Dairy employees file sexual harassment lawsuit alleging GM made inappropriate advances.
Eight current and former employees of Mensonides Dairy in Mabton, Washington, have filed a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against their employer and one of its employees. Mensonides is a member of the Northwest Dairy Association (NDA) and an affiliate of Darigold, its marketing and processing arm.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington in late May and alleges a former general manager at the dairy “repeatedly sexually harassed and retaliated against the eight plaintiffs.” What’s more, the filing contends Mensonides higher-ups “failed to protect the workers” and eventually “retaliated against them.” The ex-GM “fomented an atmosphere of sexual harassment, targeting male workers at the dairy, including Plaintiffs beginning in late 2017.”
The list of allegations made specifically against the executive include “directing sexual innuendos at the plaintiffs, sexually caressing them, groping workers and their genitalia, offering bribes for sexual favors, and threatening retaliation, withheld wages and termination for resisting sexual advances.” One plaintiff said the GM also tried to break up her marriage by telling his wife that the he was having an affair with her after she refused his sexual advances. The lawsuit said the manager was later demoted but now plaintiffs’ attorneys believe he is actually still employed.
“Mensonides Dairy was aware or should have been aware of the environment of sexual harassment and retaliation, failed to protect the workers and then retaliated against plaintiffs after they filed charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Alleged retaliation included denying previously routine schedule-change requests, not paying plaintiffs for hours worked and terminating employment based on unwarranted discipline or warnings,” according to court papers.
Eric Nicholson, the national vice president of United Farm Workers, said “sexual harassment has been a pervasive issue in the dairy industry.” He added, “This case is not the first and it’s not the last. It’s horrifying what these workers had to endure as part of their employment.”
Jason Sheehan, a founding member of Eastern Washington Family Farmers, which is an affiliate of the statewide group Save Family Farming, said, “From a big picture, sexual harassment is a serious issue and it doesn’t matter what the work is, whether it’s a dairy or anything else. As an industry and as a total group, we’re doing the best we can to stay ahead of it and protect our employees, because without our employees, we don’t have anything.”
Nicholson is seeking “systemic change to ensure dairy employees with a history of abuse not be allowed to remain in the industry.” He criticized Mensonides for continuing to employee the GM. “Otherwise, we’re recycling these people through the industry,” he said.
United Farm Workers “(UFW) has urged Darigold in the past “to take proactive action to work with us, to root out sexual predators and to ensure that these places are safe from sexual violence,” Nicholson explained. However, “To date, they have refused to take any such action.”
In 2018, the dairy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and in 2019, employees engaged in demonstrations insisting they were owed $1 million in unpaid wages. The latest lawsuit is the newest in a string of legal issues Mensonides has faced in recent years.
The Northwest Dairy Association and Darigold issued a joint statement, which read, “NDA members are held accountable to be in alignment with a rigorous set of standards that ensure excellence in dairy stewardship and sustainable farm practices. These high standards include promoting employee social welfare and a safe, positive and productive work environment. NDA is committed to making progress with this program through continuous improvement.”