National Raisin Co. to pay $2M following EEOC sexual harassment suit

Dive Brief:

  • Dried fruit company National Raisin Co. subjected female workers tasked with sorting and packing dried fruit to a sexually hostile work environment at its Fowler, California, production facility, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • The suit was settled in a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California after the parties first attempted pre-litigation settlement. The alleged harassment was both physical, including unwanted groping, and verbal, including requests for sexual favors and “threats of retaliation for not acquiescing to the harassment,” the EEOC said in a statement. 
  • Part of the agency’s charge was that National Raisin did not take appropriate action after receiving complaints. 

Dive Insight:

The EEOC noted it brought the lawsuit on behalf of a class of National Raisin laborers who are primarily Spanish speakers.

“Farmworker women, especially those with limited English proficiency, fall squarely within the category of vulnerable workers,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement.

Burrows noted that protecting vulnerable workers is an objective that EEOC outlined in its most recent Strategic Enforcement Plan, released last September.

The EEOC said that it “can — and will — do more to combat employment discrimination” through the plan. The agency is already on its way: In FY2023, it recovered $665 million for more than 22,000 workers and filed 50% more lawsuits than it did the previous year. 

In the Strategic Enforcement Plan, the EEOC expanded the definition of vulnerable workers to include workers with disabilities, people with arrest or conviction records, LGBTQ+ talent, temps, older workers, people in low-wage jobs, such as teenagers, and people with limited literacy or English proficiency.

Noting the importance of championing talent who may not be proficient in English, Burrows stated that her agency will continue to bring litigation where necessary to ensure that they — and all workers — have equal employment opportunity free from workplace harassment.”

Along with paying $2 million, National Raisin’s consent decree requires the employer to change its workplace practices to prevent further sexual harassment at worksites, including by hiring a third-party monitor and providing “significant training and robust reporting mechanisms.” 

The related suit against Select Staffing, the employment agency that is a partner to National Raisin, is ongoing.