Company’s farm manager sexually bullied female farmworkers and fired workers who complained of widespread abuse, federal agency charges
East County News Service
April 7, 2017 (San Diego) – Bornt & Sons, Inc., its former farm labor contractor Barraza Farm Service, LLC and Barraza Farm Service, Inc. violated federal laws by allowing ongoing sexual harassment of female farmworkers, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed this week. Bornt & Sons and Barraza also unlawfully retaliated against workers who opposed the harassment and against family members of victims, the EEOC alleged.
Bornt & Sons, headquartered in Holtville, operates organic farms in Imperial County. The company previously operated an organic farm in Jacumba Hot Springs that closed down due to a dry well after being embroiled in controversy over an eye gnat infestation originating on the farm that was plaguing the community, as ECM reported.
Barraza Farm Service is a labor contractor that provides workers to area farms.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a Bornt & Sons’ manager subjected at least four female farmworkers to sexual harassment since 2010. The misconduct, the EEOC said, included unwanted touching and forcible kissing, sexual comments, leering at female workers’ buttocks and offering employment benefits in exchange for sex. In addition, the EEOC contends that Bornt & Sons and Barraza failed to take corrective action when they became aware of the federal investigation into sex harassment, instead moving the harasser to a different farm, where he continued to sexually harass other female farmworkers.
The EEOC further alleges that Bornt & Sons and Barraza retaliated against at least four farm-workers who opposed or reported the widespread sexual abuse to management officials by laying them off or failing to rehire them. Bornt & Sons and Barraza also fired at least three farmworkers for their familial association with the sexual harassment victims, according to the EEOC.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (EEOC v. Bornt & Sons, Inc. dba Bornt Family Farms; Barraza Farm Service, LLC dba Barraza Farm Service and/or Barraza Farm Services; and Barraza Farm Service, Inc. dba Barraza Farm Service and/or Barraza Farm Services, Case No: 3:17-cv-00678-W-NLS) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC’s suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the claimants and a class of victims, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent any future discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
“We continue to see generations of female farmworkers being subjected to sexual harassment and who are afraid to speak out due to a fear of retaliation,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, which includes Imperial County in its jurisdiction. “This is a continuing concern for the EEOC, which calls for accountability in this industry.”
Rosa Viramontes, district director of the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, added, “These companies were given the opportunity to step up and rectify the harassment that was occurring in the workplace. Instead, they retaliated against the victims and those that were related to them, along with workers who opposed the harassment. Retaliation like this can chill others from reporting abuses at work and the EEOC is dedicated to holding companies such as these accountable.”
Eliminating discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under equal employment laws or reluctant or unable to exercise them is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Barraza did not respond to its request for comments on the claims. Bornt & Sons told the newspaper it would issue a statement but did not do so by deadline.