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Potato packers fined $450,000 for sexual harassment, retaliation


Two companies that operated a joint potato packing plant in Monte Vista, Colorado, will pay $450,000 to settle a lawsuit that accused them of harassment and retaliation, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Wednesday.

EEOC said Monte Vista, Colorado-based Smokin’ Spuds Inc. and Houston-based Farming Technology Inc. subjected more than a dozen women to regular verbal sexual harassment and unwelcome physical conduct from a supervisor.

The EEOC said the companies also unlawfully discharged three of the women in retaliation for refusing to subject to the harassment or complaining about it to other management officials.

The supervisor, Samuel Valdez, engaged in various “sexually inappropriate actions” and management of the companies failed to heed worker complaints in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC said.

In addition to paying $450,000, the settlement decree requires extensive training for employees, among other provisions.

“This case is the latest in a long-series of cases challenging sexual harassment in the agricultural industry, often directed at immigrants from Mexico and Latin America,” EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a statement.

Last month, a Miami federal jury returned a $17.4 million verdict against a produce and packing firm accused of sexual harassment and rape in a case brought by the EEOC.

A spokesman for the potato packing companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

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