By DAN WHEAT
YAKIMA, Wash. -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a second lawsuit against Evans Fruit Co. of Cowiche, alleging the company violated federal law by retaliating against workers for cooperating in a federal discrimination investigation.
The EEOC filed the suit Sept. 15 in U.S. District Court in Yakima. It is related to an June 2010 lawsuit in the same court in which the EEOC accused the company of sexual harassment of women farmworkers at its Sunnyside ranch.
An attorney for Evans Fruit could not be reached for comment.
The new lawsuit alleges former ranch manager Juan Marin, crew leaders and other employees used intimidation and threats to attempt to prevent witnesses from participating in the EEOC's investigation in the sexual harassment case.
Marin and his associates made it clear that anyone who cooperated with the investigation would suffer serious harm, the EEOC alleges. Two workers moved to another state in fear, the EEOC said. Marin attempted to coerce one of the witnesses to keep him informed about anyone who continued to speak to the EEOC, the agency alleged.
Retaliation for reporting or assisting in the prosecution of sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"From the beginning, this case has been marked by an extraordinary need to prevent intimidation and threats," said William Tamayo, EEOC regional attorney in San Francisco. The new suit was filed, he said, as another measure to ensure safety of farmworkers coming forth in the sexual harassment case.
Tamayo urged workers who may have experienced sexual harassment or retaliation at Evans Fruit to contact the EEOC to determine if they qualify to be part of the lawsuit. EEOC contacts are: Carmen Flores, 206-220-6853; May Che, 206-220-6919; and Debra Smith 415-625-5650. All three speak Spanish.
Evans Fruit is one of the largest apple producers in the United States, operating more than 7,000 acres of orchard at 11 ranches, operating three production facilities and employing 1,200 seasonal workers in addition to year-round staff. The company is a major exporter of Red Delicious apples to Mexico.