Wausau’s Baumann Farms is at the center of a lawsuit over gender discrimination allegations.
Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it happens more than it should, and gender discrimination happens more than most people probably realize. For example, a ginseng farm in Wisconsin is under fire in a lawsuit filed by a handful of female workers over allegations that they were “subject to sexual assault and sexual harassment at work and were fired after they complained.”
The suit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) earlier this week in federal court. According to court documents, the female workers experienced “persistent sexual harassment by a supervisor” at Wausau’s Baumann Farms. The complaint further alleges that “a male supervisor propositioned them for sex, sent them photos of his penis and touched, grabbed and hugged the women at work.” This inappropriate behavior went on from early 2018 to August 2019. When the women spoke out against the behavior and threatened to report him, they were terminated from their positions.
Unfortunately, the allegations continue. According to the suit, “Baumann Farms enforced an English-only policy that required all employees to speak English around managers or on the phone or radio.” Because of that, the plaintiffs argue the policy is discriminatory against “Hispanic employees based on national origin and is not justified by business necessity.”
What do federal guidelines say about such a policy? For starters, while “employers can require workers to speak English in circumstances in which it is needed for the employer to operate safely or efficiently, such as communicating with English-speaking workers or customers,” they cannot require “workers to speak English during break times or when communicating with other non-English-speakers.”
When commenting on the case and the discrimination the female employees endured, EEOC district director Julianne Bowman said “the case shows that female farmworkers are extremely vulnerable to harassment in the workplace.”
The suit itself was filed after the EEOC tried to reach a settlement with Baumann Farms. At the moment, the suit is seeking a jury trial, as well as “back pay for the workers as well as punitive damages against the company.”
Baumann Farms is one of the largest ginseng growers in all of Wisconsin. For those who don’t know, most of the ginseng industry in the U.S. “is located almost entirely within Marathon County.” The farm covers more than 500 acres, and the company itself has been in operating since 1978.
The EEOC is a federal agency tasked with enforcing federal laws designed to protect people from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, gender, age, disability, and national origin.