OLYMPIA — A lawsuit alleging discrimination, management negligence and unlawful termination by Dan Fazio, director of the farm labor association WAFLA, and by WAFLA is pending in federal court.
And two anonymous memos critical of management practices were sent to several WAFLA board members.
Fazio told Capital Press he could not comment.
“WAFLA vigorously disputes the allegations made by a former employee and looks forward to defending itself in court,” said Kim Bresler, WAFLA’s membership and communications director. Allegations in the memos are “strongly and vehemently denied,” Bresler said.
Several prospective WAFLA board members decided not to come on the board because of the first memo, she said.
First known as the Washington Farm Labor Association, WAFLA, headquartered in Lacey, has expanded into the Northwest’s main provider of thousands of H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers, mainly to the tree fruit industry.
The lawsuit was filed in early June by Dawn Dobbins, a former WAFLA employee, in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia and was moved later that month to U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
The lawsuit says Dobbins didn’t know, when she was hired by WAFLA as an administrative assistant, that “Fazio has a long history of unlawful, inappropriate and discriminatory behavior.”
It was “especially egregious considering that WAFLA provides human resources services to agricultural employers and that Fazio holds himself out as an expert on the subject of employment practices,” the lawsuit states.
“Fazio has a pattern and practice of treating female employees with contempt and ridicule,” the lawsuit alleges. It further alleges Fazio made racist comments.
Dobbins was promoted to human resources and office manager in October 2016.
Fazio would sit next to her, instead of across a table, in closed-door meetings and would “cause his legs to touch hers in a sexual and inappropriate manner” and did it in a way others could not see, the lawsuit alleges.
When Dobbins stood up for a woman employee that Fazio didn’t like, he demoted her from human resources manager to entry-level account executive, the lawsuit states.
Dobbins filed a formal complaint, pursuant to company procedures, on Jan. 12, 2017, and was informed on Jan. 20 that it would not be investigated for two months. Thereafter, she was subjected to humiliation and ridicule, the lawsuit states.
George Zanatta, WAFLA chief operating officer, delivered findings on the complaint months after Dobbins submitted it and, while admitting some of Fazio’s behaviors were inexcusable, he attempted to discredit Dobbins and called upon her to apologize to Fazio for alleged inaccurate statements, the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit the findings recommended Dobbins be reassigned and given corrective measures and did not recommend any discipline for Fazio other than for him to apologize to Dobbins.
The findings did not consider allegations of offensive and demeaning conduct by Fazio in the separate and previous litigation of Mendoza v. WAFLA that have been known to WAFLA for years, the lawsuit states. WAFLA continues to “tolerate illegal, discriminatory behavior from Fazio,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, WAFLA and Fazio created a discriminatory and hostile workplace for Dobbins, she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a right-to-sue letter and on May 31, 2017, WAFLA fired Dobbins. Dobbins refused to sign a separation agreement waiving her legal rights. The lawsuit alleges violation of state discrimination law, management negligence, unlawful termination and seeks damages to be proven at trial. A jury trial is set for Nov. 26, 2018, in U.S. District Court.
A June 14, 2017, anonymous memo to the WAFLA board purportedly from “concerned WAFLA staff," criticizes Fazio and two other top WAFLA officers for "poor management practices.”
High staff turnover resulted in not enough qualified people to keep the H-2A program running, the memo claims.
A June 28, 2017, anonymous memo, again purportedly from “concerned staff,” was critical of how Fazio and WAFLA ran the H-2A program.
Bresler said one board member quit for unknown reasons, another for personal reasons and that two prospective board members decided not to join after reading the first memo.
This story has been modified because Capital Press could not verify the accuracy of the original content.