California Fruit Farm and Labor Contractor Settle with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Sex Discrimination and Retaliation Charges

April 9, 2021

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stayed true to enforcing one of the national priorities comprising its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) by recently charging both a California fruit farm and a labor contractor with sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation.  According to the EEOC, Family Ranch, Inc. and Family Tree Farms, Inc. unfairly disciplined two female employees, singled them out because of their sexual orientation, segregated them from other employees, and subjected them to harassment.  One victim also alleged that the company failed to recall her to work in retaliation for multiple complaints. 

In two separate, but almost identical, press releases, the EEOC noted that it had found reasonable cause to believe that both the fruit farm and the labor contractor violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  As a result, Family Ranch settled with the EEOC for $55,000 in compensatory damages plus other relief and Family Tree settled for $40,000 plus other relief, for a combined $95,000.  As likely joint employers, it is important to note that both entities were slapped with violations.

Without admitting liability, both entities have agreed to enter into a two-year conciliation agreement with the EEOC.  In addition to paying damages, they have agreed to revise their equal employment opportunity policies regarding discrimination and harassment and to create investigation procedure policies for complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation. They have also agreed to translate these policies into Spanish, distribute the new policies to all employees, and provide training on Title VII with a specific emphasis on sex and sexual orientation discrimination to all its employees and management.  The EEOC will monitor compliance with this agreement.

The EEOC is charged with enforcement of several significant federal statutes, including portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, among others.  For Fiscal Years 2017-2021, the EEOC issued an SEP with a list of six substantive national priorities that included eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, protecting vulnerable workers, including immigrant and migrant workers, and underserved communities from discrimination, addressing selected emerging and developing issues, ensuring equal pay protections for all workers, preserving access to the legal system, and preventing systemic harassment.  Protecting the LGBT community from discrimination based on sex was one of the key issues specified under the category of “selected emerging and developing issues”, which ultimately led to the strict charges levied against the farm labor entities.

The Director of Fresno’s local EEOC office provided the following helpful advice for employers:

We commend Family Ranch, Inc. for choosing to put in place changes that will have a significant impact on their workplace… Employers should review their current policies and practices to confirm that they comply with federal law.

This case is an important reminder that both farm labor contractors and their clients are often charged as joint employers.  It is important to work together on compliance in the workplace.  Contact McKague Rosasco LLP if you need assistance updating your handbook or assistance with claims of discrimination or retaliation. 

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