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Judgments, Verdicts and Settlements

Federal Judge Awards $1,470,000 in EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Case Against Z Foods

www.eeoc.gov

Workers Who Were Sexually Harassed and Fired for Complaining Vindicated in Court's Ruling

FRESNO, Calif. - A federal judge has ordered Z Foods, Inc., once one of the largest dried fruit processors in the United States, to pay $1,470,000 in damages in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

EEOC had charged that Z Foods allowed male supervisors to sexually harass a class of female employees and fired male and female employees when they complained about the sexual harassment. The court awarded the maximum allowed by the statute, offset by a previous settlement, and ruled that the claimants suffered severe emotional distress as a result of actions of Z Foods.

The court found that two supervisors for the Madera, Calif.-based company subjected multiple female farmworkers to ongoing sexual harassment. The sexual harassment took the form of conditioning promotions and employment on sexual favors, continuous sexual advances, stalking female employees and unwanted physical touching and leering. Male employees, who witnessed the egregious harassment, complained about the abuse alongside their female employees. These employees were retaliated against and discharged soon after their complaint.

After an investigation, EEOC filed suit against both Z Foods and its predecessor, Zoria Farms, in September 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, alleging that the sexual harassment and subsequent retaliation violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (EEOC v. Zoria Foods, Inc., Z Foods, Case No. 1:13-at-00698). In April 2015, Zoria Farms settled the EEOC claim against it for $330,000 and a five-year consent decree containing injunctive remedies.

"EEOC continues to see sexual harassment and retaliation in the agricultural industry," said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC's Los Angeles District. "The solidarity that male employees displayed here in supporting and speaking up along with their female co-workers about the severe harassment is a critical component of remedying the pervasive problem of sexual harassment. The court's findings vindicate the courage it took for these workers to stand up and demand a workplace free of sexual harassment."

Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC's Fresno Local Office, added, "Workers have the right to voice their concerns about a sexually hostile work environment without fearing repercussions from their employer. With this ruling, the court sends the message that employers who ignore or punish employees for complaining of harassment leave themselves open to greater liability."

Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Outrageous behavior equals Huge Verdict

Outrageous behavior converts to one of the largest sexual harassment verdicts in America, $168 million.

In a March 2, 2012 article by Ejoli Francis it is reported that Ani Chopourian won close to $168 million in a sexual harassment suit against a Sacramento, California hospital, perhaps the largest victory in U.S. history for a sexual harassment suit brought by a single employee.

A federal court jury awarded the 45-year-old former cardiac surgery physician assistant $125 million in punitive damages, $39 million for mental anguish and $3.5 million for lost wages and benefits. The award came nearly four years after she claimed she was terminated for filing complaints repeatedly to the hospital's human resources department. Chopourian said she was tormented and sexually harassed by surgeons and the medical staff in the cardiac surgery center at Mercy General from 2006 to 2008. She said that one surgeon stuck her with a needle, called her a "stupid chick" and said she did surgery "like a girl."

One harasser told Chopourian one day, 'You'll give in to me,'" Chopourian is reported to have told ABC News affiliate KXTV in Sacramento. "I'd look at him [and say] 'I'll never give in to you.' I'd look at my supervisor and say 'Do something.' They'd just laugh."

In a two-year period Chopourian filed about 18 written complaints covering patient safety to sexual harassment to the fact that meals and break rules were not being followed. Her last filed complaint was received by human resources July 31, 2008. She was terminated Aug. 7, 2008.

After Chopourian was released from Mercy in 2008, she kept her physician assistant privileges at the hospital and started working for a new doctor in gynecologic oncology. Several months into her new job, Mercy denied Chopourian's privileges and she lost her job. Educated at UCLA and Yale, Chopourian has been unemployed for 2.5 years. Having her privileges denied rendered her unemployable.

95 Million Dollar Verdict in Sexual Harassment case

The harassment began in St. Louis in 2005, according to the New York Daily News.

Richard Moore, the store manager of the branch, nicknamed Alford "Trixie." He then groped Ashley’s breasts, commented about her looks, according to Reuters.

The harassment culminated in 2006 when Ashley was in the back stockroom when Moore came up to her, removed his genitals from his pants and then hit her top of the head with his penis according to Reuters. A month later, he then harassed her by pushing her down onto a sofa, lifting up her shirt and masturbating on top of her.

Alford says she called the company sexual harassment hotline but that her message was never returned, reports Reuters. Ashley sued Aaron's in 2008.

Companies can be liable for the sexual harassment conducted by their employees if they have knowledge or should have knowledge that sexual harassment is taking place but they take no steps to prevent or safeguard their employees from the harassment.

Alford said that she called the company's sexual harassment hotline. As a result, the message she left would have informed her employer about the sexual harassment and the company should have done something to help rectify the situation - like fire Moore.

For Aaron's, a sexual harassment lawsuit has led to a $95 million verdict - though Alford's former attorney says that due to federal caps on damages, the damages award will likely be reduced to around $40 million, reports the New York Daily News.

This is just one example of the type of judgment a company can face if it doesn’t take sexual harassment complaints seriously. Companies should have a Zero Tolerance for such behavior.

(Sources: New York Daily News and Reuters).