Applesauce Maker Pays $300K for Sexually Hostile Work Environment

Knouse Foods, a major farm growers’ cooperative that owns the Musselman Company, agreed to pay $300,000 to a class of women and furnish significant remedial relief to settle a federal harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Knouse operates seven processing plants in three states. One of those plants, in Gardners, Pa., employs 150 workers who pack apple juice and applesauce in a variety of sizes. It was there, EEOC said, that a class of female farmworkers was subjected to egregious sexual harassment by male coworkers.

According to EEOC, the sexually hostile work environment included some male coworkers making lewd and unwanted sexual advances and sexually explicit remarks. They also allegedly engaged in threatening behavior, such as using a forklift to chase women or blocking them with their bodies or a broom while they walked down the hall. In addition, according to the lawsuit, the women were subjected to unlawful harassment and called derogatory names because of their Mexican national origin.

EEOC further charged that Knouse Foods wrongfully disciplined or reassigned employees in reprisal for their complaints about the abusive treatment.

In addition to the $300,000 in monetary relief, the three-year consent decree includes injunctions against engaging in retaliation or harassment based on sex or national origin; mandatory anti-discrimination training of all employees at the Gardners facility; and supervisor accountability to ensure that work areas be in compliance with company policies against discrimination. Additionally, Knouse will be required to report periodically to EEOC regarding the cooperative’s investigation into and resolution of any complaints of alleged discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, and must post a notice confirming Knouse’s commitment to comply with Title VII.

EEOC said it attempted to reach a voluntary settlement before filing suit in United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Civil Action No. 1:09-cv-01811-CCC.

“The EEOC has seen a troubling number of sexual harassment charges filed by farmworkers across the country,” said Debra Lawrence, the regional attorney at EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office. “The Commission is committed to eliminating this egregious harassment of migrant and low-income workers.”

Iris Santiago-Flores, the trial attorney responsible for handling the litigation, added, “We are pleased that Knouse worked with EEOC to resolve this case. In addition to the monetary compensation to the victims of the harassment and retaliation, the consent decree provides substantial injunctive and remedial relief intended to protect all employees at the processing plant from unlawful harassment and retaliation.”

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