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December 6, 2011

One of the largest orchid farms in the U.S. has agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a class action lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging pervasive discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation against female Latina greenhouse workers by the company’s supervisors, managers, and owners, EEOC announced Nov. 29 (EEOC v. Cyma Orchids Inc., C.D. Cal., No. 10-7122, consent decree filed 11/28/11).

The proposed consent decree, settling the suit filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, was signed by Judge Dolly M. Gee of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The settlement with Oxnard, Calif.-based Cyma Orchids, Inc. marks the latest effort by the EEOC to stem what the federal agency says is widespread abuse, particularly of low-wage
female workers, in California’s immigrant-heavy agricultural industries.

Cyma agreed to pay $200,000 to settle the lawsuit; the farm’s former owner, Taean Orchids, will pay an additional $40,000, the EEOC noted.

The complaint, filed in September 2010, on behalf of a class of at least seven Latina farmworkers, and one Latino who was fired after defending a victim, charged that the women were groped and subjected to unwanted touching of their breasts and buttocks, repeated propositions, and sexual jokes and comments about their bodies, EEOC said.

Korean and Hispanic male supervisory staff engaged in widespread sexual harassment, which was laced with discrimination based on the victims’ country of origin, the agency added.

The lawsuit alleged that the supervisors joked about how often Mexican women had sex, and made comments that Mexican women were lazy and did not “know their place,” EEOC stated. It also charged that workers who complained about the harassment and discrimination were retaliated against, including a Hispanic male lead greenhouse worker who was fired after defending a victim.

As part of the settlement, Cyma entered into a two-and-one-half year consent decree, requiring the orchid farm to assign an equal employment opportunity coordinator to ensure that all staff are trained regarding EEO rights and responsibilities.

The company also must track future complaints and must hold employees accountable for failing to adequately address complaints, EEOC added.

In the last two years, EEOC has brought a number of lawsuits against agricultural companies and has worked closely with the California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit legal service
program that aims to improve the quality of life for low-income individuals and farmworkers. 12.06.2011

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