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Koch Foods pays $3.75 million to settle EEOC harassment, bias suit

Koch Foods pays $3.75 million to settle EEOC harassment, bias suit

A poultry supplier has agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that charged it with sexual harassment, national origin and racial discrimination, and retaliation against a class of Hispanic workers in its Mississippi chicken processing plant.

The company, Park Ridge, Illinois-based Koch Foods Inc., said in a statement it contends plaintiffs fabricated allegations of mistreatment as part of a coordinated effort to obtain work authorizations through visas.

The EEOC said Wednesday in a statement that Koch Foods subjected Hispanic employees at its Morton, Mississippi, chicken processing plant to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The EEOC said “supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal everyday work activities. Further, a class of Hispanic employees was subject to retaliation in the form of discharge and other adverse actions after complaining.”

The agency said that in addition to paying the $3.75 million settlement, under a three-year consent decree Koch will take specific actions designed to prevent future discrimination, including implementing new policies and practices, among other provisions.

The EEOC’s Birmingham, Alabama, regional attorney, Marsha Rucker, said in a statement: “We commend Koch Foods for its commitment to settle this case, which contained serious allegations of harassment. The significant monetary award, the corrective measures in this decree, including EEOC monitoring, should prevent this kind of alleged misconduct in the future.”

Koch Foods said in its statement that it had “vigorously defended the case,” including filing an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, “regarding the extent to which Koch Foods could discover U visa information related to the alleged aggrieved individuals.” The company said U visas provide work authorization to individuals who have been the victims of certain crimes.

“Koch Foods contended throughout these case that plaintiffs fabricated allegations of mistreatment as part of a coordinated effort to obtain valuable work authorizations through U visas.

“The Fifth Circuit permitted Koch Foods to obtain certain discovery of U visa information from the plaintiffs,” but the case settled before that discovery was conducted, said the statement.

In January, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Koch Foods of Gainesville L.L.C. for multiple safety and health violations at its poultry processing plant and proposed penalties of $208,977. 

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