Located near Everett Washington, National Food distributes eggs throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest and East Asia. This employer recently got “egg on its face” (sorry, but I couldn’t resist).
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued National Food over the conduct of one of its supervisors at an egg farm in Lind, Washington. The supervisor is alleged to have demanded sexual favors from a female laborer, who worked alone in a hen-house in order for her to keep her job. In addition the supervisor is alleged to have physically grabbed the worker and demanded sex from her on a weekly basis from 2003 to 2010. Coworkers raised complaints about the sexual harassment to company management and were either fired or forced out of their jobs.
According to David Lopez, General Counsel for the EEOC, “This lawsuit is another in an unfortunate pattern of employers taking advantage of female agricultural workers who often work in isolation and are unaware of their rights.” Mr. Lopez is correct, but this case also highlights a company where management needs to get its cage rattled. Not to downplay the harassment, but management seriously dropped the ball when it failed to act on the reports of harassment, and then fired or forced people out of their jobs.
Given the nature and extent of the sexual harassment and retaliation, it appears that National Foods was able to settle this case for a lot less than it probably would have cost, had this case been tried to a jury.
This case highlights the necessity of, not only having a sexual harassment reporting policy, but, more importantly, educating supervisors and managers on the necessity of reporting complaints of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Too often, supervisors or managers either downplay or forget to report discriminatory conduct, thereby exposing their company to liability.
Retaliation claims continue to trend upward. In many instances, the plaintiff is not able to establish that they were harassed or discriminated to such an extent that the case would be actionable, however, the employer ends up getting sued because of the way they treated the plaintiff after the report of harassment or discrimination.
Training is a key component to protecting your company from claims of this nature. Training will only be effective if upper management is committed to changing the workplace culture. That will only happen when upper management appreciates the impact that claims of harassment discrimination and retaliation have on the workforce at large and it embraces a workplace that is free from harassment discrimination.
Till next week,